Food & Beverage

China's fake meat trend is on the rise, researchers say

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Key Points
  • Chinese demand for mock meat is going up, according to research house Fitch Solutions.
  • Concerns that domestic meat supply won't be enough to meet demand are largely behind this trend, it wrote in a report. The African swine fever outbreak, in particular, has pushed down supplies of pork.
  • Plant-based mock meats are already used in Chinese dishes, so the mock meat trend could be the next step in this tradition.
People making tofu the traditional way at a workshop on 22th October, 2017 in Guizhou, China.
TPG | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

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.

In a country where pork is a staple, the African swine fever outbreak is one factor that has pushed down supplies of the meat, Fitch noted in a report released September.

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.

China is one of the highest consumers of pork in the world. It was also the largest producer of pork in the world in 2018, according to data firm Statista.

Supply crunch

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.

The fake meat trend can be viewed as the next step in this tradition as opposed to a completely new development.
Fitch Solutions

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.

Environment, health and tradition

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.

A Chinese worker uses a traditional technique to make tofu at his family factory on February 6, 2005 in China.
Cancan Chu | Getty Images News | Getty Images

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.