Plant-based and clean label: China’s Haofood targets the increasingly label-sensitive consumer with latest NPD

By Si Ying Thian

- Last updated on GMT

Carefree Pulled Chickless targets increasingly clean label-sensitive consumers © Haofood
Carefree Pulled Chickless targets increasingly clean label-sensitive consumers © Haofood

Related tags Clean label plant-based plant-based meat Protein vegan

Chinese firm Haofood says that the convergence of right ingredients with its proprietary tech was key to creating its first clean-label plant-based product - Carefree Pulled Chickless.

It is available via its official WeChat store and direct-to-retail via restaurants serving plant-based foods in China.

Its founder and CEO, Astrid Prajogo, told FoodNavigator-Asia​ what went behind creating its first clean-label product:

To achieve a clean label product, it starts upstream from the sourcing and that means no added artificial ingredients. As it’s a plant-based product, we know we’d need certain ingredients so that’s hard work on its own. Processing is also very important to make it clean-label as one of our biggest challenges is making the texture and flavour mimic real meat. The product is very sensitive to pressure and temperature.”

Haofood defines clean-label as free from additives and preservatives, including colourings, thickeners, and binders. For example, carrageenan and methylcellulose are some key artificial ingredients used in plant-based alternatives, thereby putting these foods in the ultra-processed food category​ which may not be necessarily healthier for consumers.

Carefree Pulled Chickless is sold in 600g packets and has a shelf life of 18 months – comparable to its other frozen food products. Prajogo explained that its processing is key to retaining the shelf life of the product without relying on preservatives.

Clean-label: Next line of plant-based innovation

FoodNavigator-Asia​ recently published​ some key findings from Haofood’s study on what draws plant-based consumers.

Prajogo added that its plant-based consumers are becoming more discerning about what goes in their products: “Over the years, we have learnt that what our plant-based customers want are very specific. They want a protein option with no hormones, cholesterol, antibiotics, and additives. The use of additives especially freaks them out. It is one of the key things that drop them off plant-based meat.

“They also want transparency in the ingredients and tend to ask why they are in the products, especially for consumers in the health segment. Consumers are becoming very mindful of what they are eating. At the same time, they want a product to be tasty and affordable.”

What makes its clean-label product tick

Carefree Pulled Chickless’ hero ingredient is peanut. The brand revealed that its whole product development took about two years, as it underwent multiple iterations mixing soy with peas, soy with wheat, soy with peanuts, and only peanuts.

When trialling these in consumer sensory tasting, only peanuts had consistently received a high score of at least 4.2 out of 5.

We learnt maybe the natural taste of peanut helps resolve the taste issue in plant-based meat. Consumers tend to complain about the bitter taste of beans [in plant-based foods]. Also, peanut has a high level of aspartic and glutamic acids, and it is a natural ingredient so it’s safe for use.

“We also realized that tastiness also imply mouthfeel. With peanuts, we resolve the most important issue on taste but then how do we make a good texture? I would say that’s the game of technology, and where our know-how extrusion technology comes in.”

Carefree Pulled Chickless used in tacos, salad and pasta © Haofood

Carefree Pulled Chickless mimics the texture of a shredded or pulled chicken – served in a convenient format, and can be eaten on its own or as a topping on salads, wraps or pizzas. It is currently available in three flavours, namely original, Xinjiang spices, and salt and pepper.

Prajogo explained that Haofood opted for direct-to-retail, B2B model for its clean-label product launch as it wanted to capitalise on the expertise and reach of food services:

Food services have the reach, while we have the research and manufacturing capabilities. No matter how good of a product we can make, if it isn’t reaching the consumer then we can forget about it.

“We don’t have a strong platform to do it direct for B2C business model, so we knew that we have to work together with food services. We know what they want, their issues and the consumers’ issues. Together we’ll be much more effective and efficient.”

The brand touted plans to eventually move into direct-to-consumer space in supermarkets, as well as expansion to Singapore with the same flavours in time.

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