Stigma towards plant-based eating in Asia is no longer the stumbling block it once was.
  • Starbucks is the first global food and beverage chain to launch an extensive plant-based menu in China, catering to growing Chinese interest in plant-based alternatives.
  • Asia is home to 60% of the world’s population, a massive and largely untapped market for the growing alternative protein industry.
  • China faces periodic outbreaks of infectious disease in its pig, shrimp and chicken populations, raising concerns about the wider risk pandemics. 

The world’s largest pork consumer is developing a taste for the alternative stuff.

Consumers in China, home to half of the world’s pigs, are finding plant-based pork on Starbucks menus across the country, in grain bowls and Vietnamese-style noodle salads. Made by Omnipork in Hong Kong, the offering is part of a line of plant-based foods, introduced Wednesday in Starbucks’ 4,200 China shops, which also includes imitation beef from Beyond Meat and oat-based milk from Oatly.

Alarmed by the country’s notoriously dirty air, as well as the environmental harm caused by pork farms, Chinese consumers have been signaling an openness to try alternative meat. From Starbucks’ perspective, the new menu — dubbed “GOOD GOOD” — is in line with its plan to halve its carbon emissions by 2030.

“We are indeed witnessing a huge spike in interest,” David Yeung, founder of Hong Kong-based Omnipork, told Karma in an interview. Bringing on the plant-based items has been in the works for almost a year, he said.

Pulling off the new product line as China seeks to return to normalcy in a post-COVID-19 world, was particularly daunting, he said.

“Even during normal business times, launching a new product line in almost 4,000 locations nationwide is no small task,” he said. “Considering that this launch went ahead despite the unprecedented challenges due to COVID-19, from temporary store closures to supply chain and logistics issues, this launch holds significant meaning for everyone involved.”

The new menu also marks Beyond Meat’s debut in China, the world’s second-biggest economy and a potentially massive market for the Los Angeles-based company, whose shares have rallied in recent days after falling below their 2019 IPO price in March.

“We are in the early innings of a significant shift,” Kevin Boylan, whose PowerPlant Ventures invested in Beyond Meat before its IPO, told Karma. “Plant-based products will continue to be a leading macro tailwind in driving the future growth of consumer packaged goods.” 

Beyond Meats’ plan to open production facilities in China, like KFC’s plan to feature plant-based meals, are further signs of China’s warming to alternative protein in Asia. According to The Good Food Institute, in 2018 China’s plant-based meat industry was valued at $910 million, reflecting a year-on-year increase of 14.2%, compared to the U.S. plant-based meat market which stood at $680 million.

Such moves are “building the ever-growing investment case which will inevitably attract more capital from venture and private equity towards companies embracing this change,” Boylan said.

Omnipork’s Yeung, who dedicated nearly a decade to educating consumers across Asia Pacific about the benefits of reducing meat consumption through his social venture Green Monday Group said that his company is “constantly approached by potential investors and funds.”

Photo by China Photos/Getty Images