Interview with Elaine Siu, Managing Director, Asia Pacific, The Good Food Institute
What are the main market drivers for plant-based and cell-based meat in China? How do the drivers in China compare to those in Western markets?
The increasing health awareness of Chinese consumers is leading to increasing demand for healthier foods and greater interest in adopting a more plant-based diet. Relatedly, food safety and food security are two market drivers that are much more prominent in China than in Western markets.
China, of course, has a very different food culture from Western markets. And China’s food industry is extremely diverse—from province to province if not city to city—and fragmented. In the West, tofu is viewed as a meat substitute. In China, however, tofu is a staple food that has existed for thousands of years. Soy and tofu products are also much more diverse in the East than in the West.
It is hard to speculate whether the development of plant-based and cell-based meat in China will follow a path like the West’s. It requires quite a shift in mindset to discover the China market for what it really is.
What is the potential for China to quickly scale up production of plant-based and cell-based meat foods, as it has done with other products?
China has produced plant-based “alternatives” much longer than the West, but that probably also means that it has more baggage to get over.
I always say that while meat alternatives have to take ethics off the table to go mainstream in the West, in the East they have to take religion off the table. The 1.0 version of plant-based meat in China and Asia primarily catered to the Buddhists community.
Just as the original plant-based meat substitutes in the West targeting niche vegetarian and vegan markets had to develop into the 2.0 version we see nowadays, and be positioned and marketed very differently, the same will have to happen in China.
What needs to happen to unlock China’s market potential for plant-based and cell-based meat?
The market potential is obviously there. If I had to choose one factor that would accelerate this new category like no other, it would be favorable policies and funding from the Chinese government, especially in cell-based meat. The Government of Singapore is very outspoken about its interest in developing the alternative protein space, including cell-based, and is putting its money where its mouth is. Japan is also getting in the game. It will be interesting to see how and when the Chinese government starts investing in this space.
We work with closely with many of the plant-based and cell-based startups in Greater China and Singapore. A few “poster boy” startups need to emerge from this region to define this new category. We have seen a lot of startup and investor activity in the past year, and expect to see more newcomers in 2019.