Original Article: South Morning China Post

Spiralling pork prices, caused by the African swine fever epidemic ravaging China’s pig herds, has created a crisis that could spur demand for plant-based meat products in the world’s second largest economy.

With no known vaccine for the swine disease and a plunge in pork supply, purveyors of the growing plant-based protein meat trend have an opening to convince the mainland’s consumers that their products can be used for a range of popular dishes.

“It is a good window of opportunity,” said Hong Kong entrepreneur David Yeung, co-founder and chief executive of social venture Green Monday, which is behind plant-based meat substitute Omnipork.

“We do not need to explain to consumers and restaurants what [Omnipork] is for. They have to find another source for pork,” said Yeung in an interview on the sidelines of Alibaba Group Holding’s Taobao Makers Festival, held in the eastern coastal city of Hangzhou last week.

Omnipork, a plant-based protein that looks and tastes like ground pork, was introduced in Hong Kong last year by Green Monday. It is now available on Tmall Global, Alibaba’s cross-border e-commerce platform. New York-listed Alibaba is the parent company of the South China Morning Post.

Founded in 2012, Green Monday has joined a growing number of companies that are tapping into the potentially large market for plant-based meat substitute in mainland China, where pork is not only a crucial part of the diet, but also a symbol of a family’s well-being.

Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods – the world’s two most prominent plant-based meat producers – are already fighting for market share beyond the US. Beyond Meat, which went public on the Nasdaq Stock Market in May, plans to start distributing in China in the second half of this year.

Green Monday, which promotes healthy and sustainable living, has handled marketing and distribution for Beyond Meat’s plant-based burger in Asia. Yeung was an early investor in Beyond Meat.

The global meat substitute market is projected to reach US$7.5 billion by 2025, up from an estimated US$4.2 billion in 2017, according to a report by Allied Market Research. The meat substitute market by product type includes those prepared from tofu, tempeh, textured vegetable protein, seitan, Quorn and other plant-based sources.

“In China and most of Asia, the meat we eat the most is not beef, not chicken, but pork,” Yeung said.

That is why the region needs different types of alternative meat products, according to the 43-year-old vegetarian and practising Buddhist.

He said Western companies have also developed plant-based pork substitute, which suits how countries in the West use pork to make bacon and sausages. In countries like China, pork is used for xiaolongbao and various dim sum, as well steamed and fried pork patties.

Omnipork is considered ideal for such dishes, Yeung said. The product’s ingredients include a mixture of rice, peas, non-GMO (genetically modified organism) soy and shiitake mushroom. It extracts colour from beet to mimic “blood”.

Compared with real pork, Omnipork is estimated to be 66 per cent lower in calories, but can provide more dietary fibre, calcium and iron, according to Green Monday.

Yeung found a biotech company in Vancouver, Canada, that has plenty of experience in developing plant-based protein, with team members who are of Asian ethnicity.“When I told them what we wanted to do, they got it. I didn’t have to explain xiaolongbaosiu mai or gyoza,” Yeung said in an interview last year.

Green Monday has set up its factory in Thailand, while its research and development centre is in Canada. Outside Hong Kong, the start-up has offices in Taiwan, Macau, Singapore, Thailand and mainland China. Its investors include Hollywood filmmaker James Cameron, British photographer Mary McCartney and Hong Kong singer Kay Tse On-kay.

By the end of this year, the company expects about 15,000 restaurants and retailers in Asia will serve or sell Omnipork, including the three Michelin-starred Lung King Heen in the Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong. It plans to expand into Japan, South Korea and the UK next year.

While there is big potential for new plant-based meat products in China, the market is still in its early stage, according to Zhang Yi, chief executive and head analyst at iiMedia Research.

“People there are more worried about food safety. Taste and technology are secondary issues,” he said. “If those problems can be solved, the development should be fast [for new alternative meat products].”For more insights into China tech, sign up for our tech newsletters, subscribe to our Inside China Tech podcast, and download the comprehensive 2019 China Internet Report. Also roam China Tech City, an award-winning interactive digital map at our sister site Abacus.