‘Fake meat may not prove a big hit in China’

New trend: A food outlet worker displaying burgers made of fake meat at a shopping festival in Hangzhou. — China Daily/ANN

WHEN Hey Tea – one of China’s most popular milk tea brands – launched a new burger containing fake meat in late May, social media influencers scrambled to sample it, record videos and tell their followers how it tasted.

The Future Meat Burger, the tea maker’s first plant-based meat substitute, released in partnership with Chinese food tech company Starfield, caused a sensation when it hit the market.

“Is it really meat free? I can’t tell at all that it’s made from soybeans,” said Juzai, a fitness vlogger on Weibo, after filming herself eating two burgers. Her video garnered more than 100,000 views.

Hey Tea’s meatless burger is just one of a number of candidates in a rapidly heating faux-meat competition that started a few months ago in China.

Though these plant-based meat startups are favoured by venture capitalists, they may still face difficulty winning consumer approval in the long run, experts warned.

Artificial protein products debuted in China’s food market in the second half of last year, but their presence has mushroomed since April, especially since the arrival of international faux-meat manufacturers.

In April, fast-food chain KFC China launched its first plant-based chicken nugget in selected cities, while coffee chain Starbucks added fake beef lasagna and sandwiches to its menu the following day.

Both were supplied by Beyond Meat, a fake-meat producer in the United States that had a successful initial public offering on Nasdaq last year.

In May, Nestle, the Swiss food and drink giant, announced plans to build a faux-meat factory in Tianjin, the company’s first in Asia.

In June, Yum China, which owns the rights to operate KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell in the country, announced it would begin serving the Beyond Burger, a Beyond Meat product, for a limited period.

In August, a firm called Except Meat opened China’s first restaurant specialising in plant-based meat dishes in Beijing.

These companies have long been eyeing the Chinese market.

China, the world’s largest meat consumer where demand for pork and beef is rising, is also the world’s largest pork producer, with its high level of meat production resulting in a large carbon footprint.

Plant-based meat, lauded as a low-cholesterol, healthy foodstuff that is less environmentally damaging than traditional industries, has won plaudits in the West.

Technological advances have allowed alternatives to compete with meat in terms of flavour and texture.

As more people in China’s burgeoning middle class pay closer attention to personal health and the environment, domestic and overseas food tech companies see the market as potentially profitable.

Such companies are hoping to attract more consumers by offering meat alternatives. The question is: Will Chinese consumers buy them? — China Daily/ANN

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