Chinese demand for "mock meat" is going up amid concerns that the domestic supply won't be enough to meet demand, according to research house Fitch Solutions.
African swine fever is a highly contagious and fatal viral infection that has led to the culling of some 1.17 million hogs in China, according to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization.
As supplies dwindle, more meat imports may be needed to meet consumer demand, the Fitch report stated. Alternatively, "new options would need to be investigated and encouraged" in order to increase the supply of meat, the report said.
Mock meat is one option.
In 2018, China's plant-based meat industry was worth $910 million — up 14.2% from a year earlier, according to a report by U.S.-based Good Food Institute. In comparison, the U.S. market stood at $684 million that year — increasing by 23% year-on-year, the non-profit organization said.
African swine fever, in particular, will be "positive" for the Chinese alternative meat industry, said Simon Powell, a researcher at U.S. investment bank Jefferies.
The deadly disease might have led to a 20 million ton drop in China's pork market, according to Powell. On this decrease, consumers could turn to mock meat as an alternative.
"I think there could be tremendous pull through for alternative protein, alternative meat here," he told CNBC last Wednesday.
Another factor behind the mock meat trend is Chinese cuisine, Fitch Solutions said in their report. That's because plant-based mock meats, made of tofu or wheat-based seitan, are already traditionally used in Chinese dishes.
In fact, some say that the Chinese began eating alternative meat as early as the Tang Dynasty, more than a thousand years ago.
"The fake meat trend can be viewed as the next step in this tradition as opposed to a completely new development," the report said.
Environmental, ethical, and health concerns may also be behind the growing demand for fake meat in China, the Fitch report noted.
Chinese millennials and flexitarians — or people who reduce their meat intake for health or environmental reasons — could lead the way for alternative meat, Powell told CNBC.
Despite this trend, it could be a while before mock meat consumption in China becomes widespread.
"One would never assume that it would be on a mass scale," Powell said, adding that pork, in particular, is important to the Chinese everyday diet and national psyche.
Chinese demand for meat has historically been high. In 2018, the country accounted for approximately 46% of the total world's pork consumption, according to OECD data.