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Report: Chinese alternative protein market poised for growth as flexitarianism rises and big food dives in

The alternative protein market in China is positioned to continue its rapid growth in the coming years, driven by the rise of flexitarianism in the country. In response to mass demand, big food players are now tapping the huge business opportunity, a move that will make the burgeoning market increasingly competitive, say the analysts.

China’s quickly evolving alternative protein space is poised to grow significantly, owing to the rise of flexitarianism and plant-based eating, a trend underpinned by consumer concerns over food safety and health, says a new report released by Beijing and Singapore-based Asymmetrics Research.

The research aims to map out the current alternative protein market landscape in China, identifying the key trends, opportunities and challenges that lie ahead for the industry. 

With growing numbers of Chinese consumers adopting flexitarianism in the name of health, food safety and to a lesser extent, sustainability-related reasons, the report expects fermentation and cell-based protein players to benefit from the demand once they launch.

Both categories of alternative protein have yet to debut on the market and join existing plant-based brands that are currently available to consumers.


Starbucks China launched an all-vegetarian menu across its outlets nationwide in partnership with Oatly, OmniPork and Beyond Meat. Image: Starbucks China. 

Brands need to boost conversion of category awareness into product trial, and inspire re-purchase by consumers and promotion by decision influencers.

Asymmetrics Research  

For plant-based meat players, analysts say that key opportunities lie in launching B2B collaborations, such as partnerships with foodservice companies and restaurants, which will help brands attract new consumer awareness and foster a presence and familiarity with the mass market.

The successful nationwide collaboration between food techs Oatly, Beyond Meat and OmniPork with Starbucks, for instance, proved critical to popularise alternative proteins with Chinese audiences, the report noted. 

“Brands need to boost conversion of category awareness into product trial, and inspire re-purchase by consumers and promotion by decision influencers,” analysts added. 

Experts at Asymmetrics Research also highlighted that the space will only get more competitive in the future, especially as big food players are now hopping on the bandwagon.


Nestlé recently introduced Harvest Gourmet, its China-facing plant-based meat brand. Image: Nestlé. 

Large domestic manufacturers have been gradually entering the plant-based dairy category, with Nongfu Spring, Sanyuan and Doubendou as some of the examples cited in the report. 

Global giants like Nestlé have also doubled down, launching its own China-facing plant-based brand Harvest Gourmet in December 2020. 

Given their ability to “leverage on their wide B2C distribution networks”, big food entrants will continue to heat up competition in all major categories of alternative protein, the report predicts. 

We are seeing many product launches by entrants ranging from start-ups to large domestic and multinational players.

Huiyi Lin, chief insights officer, Asymmetrics Research 

“China’s alternative proteins market competition has been intensifying in the past 12 months,” commented Huiyi Lin, chief insights officer at Asymmetrics Research. “We are seeing many product launches by entrants ranging from start-ups to large domestic and multinational players.”


Domestic plant-based startup Hero Protein is developing vegan meat alternatives tailored to Chinese cuisine. Image: Hero Protein, 

“In China, new markets tend to emerge very fast. Plant-based meat is not an exception. Indeed, many players – international and domestic – have already joined this market within one year.

The competition is intense,” said Edward Weng, CEO of homegrown plant-based startup Hero Protein, who has recently secured pre-seed funding to scale and expand distribution. 

In terms of barriers that the industry will face, cost remains one of the key problems, with the premium on many alternative protein products deterring mass consumer adoption.

Limited distribution in mainstream brick-and-mortar retailers, and gaps in taste, texture and formats when it comes to the experience of meat replacement products. 

For David Yeung, founder and CEO of Hong Kong-based Green Monday, the group behind the vegan pork mince OmniPork and the plant-based café and grocery concept Green Common that opened doors in Shanghai in December 2020, awareness is still a crucial obstacle to overcome. 

“The near-term growth challenge for the China market is the relative lack of awareness,” said Yeung. 

This article was first published on Green Queen Media and is reprinted here with permission.  

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