Germinating growth: China alt protein scene increasingly competitive, but localisation key to success

By Nurul Ain Razali

- Last updated on GMT

Crepe-like savoury called ‘jianbing’ could be made using JUST Egg. ©Getty Images
Crepe-like savoury called ‘jianbing’ could be made using JUST Egg. ©Getty Images

Related tags Eat Just JUST Egg Alibaba plant-based China Us

China’s plant-based and cultured meat market is getting increasingly competitive, but industry collaboration and product localisation are going to be crucial if it is to become more ‘relevant’ to consumers.

One size no longer fits all, added Executive Director of the China Plant-Based Food Alliance (CPBFA) and AgFood Future Foundation (AGF) Ryan Xue.

Xue was speaking to in the wake of a US$25m alliance forged between US alternative protein giant Eat Just and an Alibaba-invested private equity firm C2 Capital Partners (C2).

“We see tremendous opportunity for leading alternative protein companies such as Eat Just to enter the Chinese market. It represents a real opportunity for new customers and to achieve significant growth. We would also like to see Eat Just move from being present in China to be more relevant in China, contend with the dynamic rate of change, and reshape the Chinese alternative protein market.

The food industry is a US$2tn business. For any food and beverage company, China is the market to be in. Despite the difficult economic climate in the past three years, the changing demographics and expanding middle class are expected to triple its spending to over US$6tn in 2022,” ​said Xue.

A food diplomacy

Recently, Eat Just said it would execute a multifaceted approach to entering China with the help of C2. C2 will support its various go-to-market strategies, sales, branding, retrieval of consumer insights, hiring and manoeuvring the regulations.

Established in 2018, the Chinese firm provides growth and operational support for companies to scale in China. This partnership is its first foray into the alternative protein sector.

“We are excited to support and accelerate the growth of their innovative products and technologies in China by leveraging the unique insights and resources of the C2-Alibaba ecosystem,”​ said the Managing Partner of C2, Steve Lin.

Eat Just is a foodtech company that strives to create sustainable food, for instance, cultivated chicken and eggs. Before the partnership, it has made some headway in China. For example, its plant-based egg, JUST Egg, was launched on e-commerce platforms in China, like Alibaba’s, and steadily grew from Shanghai starting in 2019.

Shanghai street vendors have also been selling a crepe-like savoury called ‘jianbing’ using JUST Egg. A JUST Egg caravan also makes frequent appearances at weekend markets. The firm also opened China’s first plant-based culinary studio that exposed the people to different ways of cooking plant-based dishes.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), China is the largest importer of meat and producer of eggs.

CEO GOOD Meat Josh Tetrick at Singapore launch
GOOD Meat CEO Josh Tetrick in Singapore. ⒸEat Just

Besides China, Eat Just established the largest cultivated meat facility in Asia in Singapore​ on June 10. Co-founder and CEO of Eat Just, Josh Tetrick, attended its ground-breaking ceremony at Bedok Food City. The firm has planned to submit its application for cultivated beef before the end-2022 to the regulator, the Singapore Food Agency (SFA). Once approved, the firm will start with a ground beef product alongside its entry into China.

“We are grateful to partner with C2 to grow our business in China, with their unique market insights and know-how, including logistics, branding, marketing omnichannel sales, distribution and last-mile delivery,”​ said Tetrick.

In January 2022, the Chinese government listed the ‘future of food’ in its agricultural Five-Year Plan in January 2022. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs included cultivated meat and ‘future’ food in its official plan for the first time. However, it is unclear how the country would regulate such products or protect its conventional protein and dairy sectors.

Proteins, probiotics and healthy ageing are major focus areas of our upcoming Growth Asia Summit in Singapore from 11 to 13 October. Check out big-name brands, international experts and pioneering start-ups slated to present here.

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