is part of the Informa Markets Division of Informa PLC
This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.
China’s plant-based market has experienced a surge in recent years. Following dietary guidelines released by the Chinese government in 2016 which recommended lower consumption of meat and poultry to improve public health and mitigate environmental impact, the market for alternative meat products has opened up significantly. The ‘free from meat’ market in China, which includes plant-based products, has grown 33.5% since 2014 amounting to a worth of $9.7 billion in 2018 according to Euromonitor. Reports show that notable investments have been made in China’s plant-based sector over the past year, and with continued growth projected, it is forecast that the industry will be worth $11.9 billion by 2023. With a change in dietary attitudes and priorities alongside the sheer size of the market, China is a key market for plant-based industries.
Health concerns in China are rising due to the prevalence of overweight adults and climbing obesity rates. Plant-based foods contain no cholesterol, tend to be low in saturated fat, high in iron and do not contain residual antibiotics or hormones. With measures taken by the Chinese government including dietary guidelines in 2016 which recommended a reduction in meat and poultry intake, this is a prime moment for the meat-alternative market to propose healthier options.
The key international players leading the plant-based market are American companies Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat. While these companies are engaging with international markets, their current products are not engineered to Chinese tastes. Chinese companies entering the market are at an advantage as they understand local tastes and culture, and are focusing on local dishes such as dumplings, as well as opting for pork rather than beef flavors.
Zhenmeat, a China-based start-up, is once such organisation catering to local culture by creating plant-based mooncakes, a Chinese bakery product traditionally eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival. Beyond cultural traditions, texture is a key consideration. For example, the texture of a meatball from the Yangzhou region is very dimpled, while hotpot meatballs are crispy. Foreign plant-based companies might not succeed in China if they do not observe regional preferences.
According to the Snack Report released by the Circulation Industry Promotion Center, the snack industry in China is set to have an estimated output value of $433 billion in 2020. Chinese consumers love buying healthy and tasty snacks, with natural food, whole grain, sugar-free and additive-free becoming key words and phrases. With notable investments made over the past year to the plant-based sector as a whole, theplant-based snacks segment has experienced the biggest surge. According to Mintel Group, China is the largest consumer of salty snacks, and flavour innovation is key. With the major consumer group for snack foods young people aged between 20 and 30, this is a trend which will continue, providing ample opportunity for plant-based companies to align themselves within the growing snack market.
An online investigation by Specialist PR agency Ingredient Communications found that on an international scale nearly half (46%) of vegans and 23% of vegetarians are unsatisfied with available food and beverage options. The emergence of plant-based food addresses this gap and enriches vegan and vegetarian choices.Using vegetarian ingredients to give a meat-like flavor is not a new trend in China. For years consuming tofu and similar ‘mock meat’ products made of soybeans has been practised, often to cater to the Buddhist population. In order to appeal to markets beyond the health conscious and those eager to experience new products, it is important to consider the choice of plant-based products that do not imitate meat so explicitly as this may go against religious beliefs or preferences.
The strongest segments for the plant-based market are Millennials and Generation Z. The buzz surrounding plant-based products has sparked an interest in vegan diets among traditional meat-eaters, and producers can rely on demand from younger Chinese consumers who are avid followers of food trendsand love to try new cuisines. The prevalence of increasing obesity amongst Chinese teenagers is a health concern which plant-based companies can alleviate. Leveraging social media and influencers is key to strategies to engage these segments and promoteplant-based options as healthy and trendy.
According to a survey produced by iiMedia Research, 36% of Chinese consumers said they didn't know what plant-based meat is, and nearly 40% of respondents said they did not know much about plant-based meat substitutes. While there is an opportunity to educate, there is also the concern of negative attitudes towards meat-imitating products which can be seen as fake and unnatural, meaning that appealing to the natural aspect of plant-based products is crucial.
While positioning of the plant-based market in the West has seen success through promotion of sustainability and environmental impact, a different approach is needed for the Chinese market. China's post-90s generation have a strong sense of patriotism, and marketing concepts that highlight the sustainable development of the country may be more attractive than saving the planet. A means of doing this is considering base materials of production, such as using peas rather than soybeans. The price of peas is relatively stable in China, with pea planting less restricted by climate, terrain and other factors. Chinese consumers are also familiar with peas and likely to accept products produced using this home-grown material.