Beyond soy and food service: China’s second-generation plant-based beverages to tap on new ingredients and RTD format

By Guan Yu Lim

- Last updated on GMT

In Asia-Pacific, new products containing plant protein account for 36% of beverages launches and 31% in food launches ©Getty Images
In Asia-Pacific, new products containing plant protein account for 36% of beverages launches and 31% in food launches ©Getty Images

Related tags China plant based RTD Tetra pak

Consumer interest in plant-based diets has led to increased innovation in plant-based beverages in China, as new ingredients overtake soy, and new format opportunities emerge in the form of ready-to-drink.

Already the biggest consumer of plant-based beverages in the world at 18 billion litres, the majority of consumption is still in loose format, especially soy milk. In this case, loose format is non-packaged soy milk sold in the market or on-premise eateries.

Ratanasiri Tilokskulchai, marketing services director at Tetra Pak APAC told FoodNavigator-Asia​: “As consumers are seeking for healthy options, convenient lifestyle and new experiences, we see growth opportunities for ready-to-drink products that offer consumers clear health benefits and great taste​.”

In addition, Tilokskulchai said there was increasing consumer interest in other nuts and grains such as oat, almond, macadamia and quinoa milks across the country, probably driven by the food service trends.

The firm terms this shift in ingredients and formats in the plant-based milk category in China, as ‘Second-Generation’.

We started to see the proliferation of what we call ‘Second Generation’ of plant-based in the China market, especially amongst the younger generation of consumers. You probably have seen oat milk all over trendy coffee shops in China today​.”

A consumer survey in 2019 found that 62% of Chinese consumers said “Plant-based’ concepts and claims were appealing to them.

According to Tilokskulchai, the key driver for consumers shifting to plant-based was for health reasons.

In a recent study (Marta Lonnie et al​, 2020) funded by Tate and Lyle, plant-based proteins (pea, lupin, rice, hemp, oat and lentil) have been reported for their blood pressure lowering effects, improving muscle mass, regulating postprandial glucose and insulin.

Tilokskulchai said brands need to be clear in their positioning and communication about the product health benefits in such plant-based beverages, in addition to providing consumers with unique drinking experience.

Challenges in mouthfeel and waste

For the processing and packaging giant, processing plant-based beverages can come with certain challenges such as achieving sustainability while maintaining the natural essence of the plant-based ingredients.

Plant-based beverages contain hard particles such as fibre which may not achieve the smooth mouthfeel as expected. However, removing fibre not only creates more waste, but also increases the environmental footprint.

Tilokskulchai cited soy milk as an example, where 1kg of beans would generate about 2kg of Oakra which was typically treated as waste.

Tetra Pak developed a ‘whole bean’ processing method to address this challenge by integrating Okara into the soymilk while still ensuring the smooth mouthfeel. In addition, the whole bean soy milk is healthier because it contains more fibre.


Tetra Pak has also committed to achieve net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in its own operations by 2030.

In China, it has been fully using renewable electricity certified by I-RECs (International Renewable Energy Certificates) since 2016.

In 2019, Tetra Pak established a partnership with waste sorting enterprises in Shanghai, Nanjing, Chengdu, Beijing and other cities, to explore and foster a new model of carton collection. This was to promote the recycling of used beverage cartons and enhance its public awareness.

The company recently presented at the Food and Beverage Innovation Forum 2020 (FBIF) held in Hangzhou, China.

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