The attitude towards veganism in China is changing. Though meat consumption has been increasing since the 80s, the trend towards plant-based products is rising – and fast! In this blog post, we’ll share with you some insights about why the Chinese market represents a great opportunity for vegan products.
The history of meat consumption in China
Originally, the Chinese population consumed mainly plant-based products. However, following the rural economic reforms in the 80s, meat consumption has been increasing and pork has been, by far, the most popular meat in China. Because of its price, meat is, to a certain extent, a sign of wealth and social status, which partially explains the enthusiasm in consuming high quantities of meat.
Lately, Chinese wet markets have been a source of many polemics as they are believed to be a source of zoonotic disease outbreaks. Government officials are promoting meat reduction and plant-based diet as a safer nutritional alternative to reduce risks of future pandemics. As a significant exporter of meat (supplying approx 25% of all meat worldwide), China could become the leader of plant-based meat in the future. Because animal meat consumption is decreasing in many countries around the globe, plant-based alternatives represent not only a safer alternative but also a necessary solution to compensate for the drop in sales of the overall meat market (both animal and plant-based meats).
There is a serious consumer concern over the link between meat and viruses which is very beneficial for the plant-based market… and, of course, the animals. The Chinese government wants to reduce the national meat consumption by 50% not only to reduce the risk of animal diseases outbreaks, but also to reduce carbon emissions and to control obesity.
Green Monday and the plant-based growth
The promotion of eating plant-based foods once a week by the Green Monday campaign group has helped many new products to find their niche in Chinese society. A recent survey conducted by Green Monday reported that 70% of Hong Kong residents are willing to try flexitarianism and not eat meat at least one day a week. In addition, 5% of females living in Hong Kong identify as vegetarian. With such a rapid growth rate, plant-based alternatives have a very bright future in China.
According to a report from Euromonitor International, “China’s vegan food market is forecast to be worth nearly US$12 billion by 2023, up from just under US$10 billion in 2018”. Covid-19 has the Chinese population of 1.5 billion talking about the need to move away from animal agriculture. Though alternatives such as tofu and soy milk have been widely available for centuries (and originally mainly consumed by the large Buddhist population), there were few vegan options mimicking the taste and texture of meat. Now, however, citizens have come into contact with many more exciting flavours. Crayfish and pork tenderloin by Zhenmeat, Omnipork faux meat, new vegan nuggets by KFC and a whole new product range from Starbucks led to Deliveroo Hong Kong doubling their vegan range. And of course, the recent launch of Beyond Meat into Chinese retail.
Large holding companies such as Multizen which owns Hersheys, Mars and Ripple have started to expand and promote vegan companies in China. To date, the California based Ripple has started exporting pea based dairy and ice cream to China.
However, now that China has caught the plant-based bug it has the potential to grow the vegan industry not just in scale of export size, but in vegan products made with new technology.
For instance, the research in cultured meat is growing fast. The technology is now ahead of the procedures and businesses are calling for policymakers to better understand the industry and update the corresponding regulations.
Frontiers has found that the interest in cultured meat as a cleaner alternative remains high in China. GlobalMeatNews stated that China will likely look to the US in order to understand the science and future policies around cell-based meat.
Less animal testing!
In addition, China has ruled that premarket animal testing will no longer be necessary for most imported cosmetics from the 1st of May 2021.
Though special status cosmetics and post market testing in case of product recall will still be in effect this ruling still represents a huge advancement toward animal free cosmetics. These new guidelines have been put into place now due to coronavirus and the move by China away from animal products. Covid-19 will cause the world to be seen in a new way with countries like China breaking with tradition and quickly updating policies.
The Chinese plant-based consumer profile
As it’s the case globally, the plant-based diet and lifestyle is more popular amongst young generations. In 2018 over 70% of plant-based consumers were under 35 years old (amongst which 47% were between 18-35 years old) according to Statista. Studies have also revealed that, as similarly observed overseas, women are more likely to adopt this diet and lifestyle.
However, the reasons for consuming plant-based products vary. Whereas in English speaking countries the animal cause and environmental arguments are the most popular reasons to consume plant-based, a 2020 CBN Data report has revealed that the main reason is for health purposes. In this report, the 5 main reasons for consuming plant-based meat products are: “low fat” (by far), “zero cholesterol,” “taste good,” “mouthfeel less greasy,” and “more nutritious”. These differences have to be taken into account by foreign companies expanding into China as they will have to adapt their marketing and USP based on this consumer profile.
So, exciting developments! The plant-based and vegan market in China is still emerging but interest is rapidly growing. Besides, due to its size and population, China represents the main consumer market in the world, so jump aboard and don’t miss the train – others won’t!
For support in taking this opportunity and expanding into China, don’t hesitate to contact Vegan the World Consulting for a free consultation. And remember, to access our monthly tips and news about upcoming opportunities, sign up to our newsletter!