Competition is heating up in China's fake meat industry, as domestic plant-based meat brand Zhenmeat launches two new products aimed at satisfying the appetites of local consumers.
The first is a deep fried fake pork tenderloin and the second is a plant-based crayfish. China is the world's largest consumer of pork and and one of the biggest of crayfish, and the latest releases from Zhenmeat play to local tastes.
Its biggest competitors right now are not domestic rivals. U.S-based Beyond Meat made its first steps into China in April through a partnership with Starbucks, while Hong Kong's Green Common launched its meatless Ominpork product in the world's second-largest economy.
"For the plant-based meat, U.S. companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible are very successful with the burger. They have their unique tech to make burger taste juicy and like beef. But since (the) start-up of Zhenmeat, we are always focusing on Chinese cuisine," Zhenmeat founder and CEO, Vince Lu, told CNBC on Wednesday.
"Our unique advantage is to find the most favorite dishes in China and use tech to replicate these meat dishes."
The pork tenderloin is made of pea and soy protein. The outside layer is made of sweet potato starch to give it a crispiness when it is deep fried. Lu hopes to get these in hotpot chains around China.
Crayfish is a popular food in China. Zhenmeat's crayfish is made from seaweed and konjac extracts, which is a sort of root plant.
"One major problem is that Chinese consumer(s) love crayfish but if you look at consuming of crawfish, there are two big problems. One problem is a lot of food waste. The tail meat is smaller than (the) body. If you have 10 kg of crayfish, once you discard head and tails you only get 1 kg of crayfish meat," Lu said.
"Second is: quality of the crawfish is not very even. Demand is so huge but supply cannot meet demand."
Zhenmeat is a much smaller player than Beyond Meat from the U.S.
But Lu told CNBC it is looking to raise $2 million by end of this year. Of that total, the Chinese start-up has secured a "few hundred thousands USD" from Big Idea Ventures, a venture capital firm with a fund focusing on plant-based foods, according to Lu. He declined to disclose the exact figure.
The new products from Zhenmeat have moved beyond its ground beef product that it currently carries in the market. Lu said the company is yet to secure any distribution deals for the fake crayfish and pork.
China's plant-based meat market is potentially lucrative and competition is heating up.
But despite the promise, the coronavirus outbreak, which began in China, has hit the industry, according to Lu.
"I think one of the negative impacts is the slow services and slow rebound of food services sector. We have all seen that," Lu said. "They are struggling, our potential clients are struggling with their own business. It slows down our expansion into Chinese and Western food services."
Still, he struck a positive note, saying the pandemic has changed people's views toward plant-based food.
"We talk to a lot of consumer and a lot of market research has shown Chinese consumer are growing (to) the idea (that) eating more protein will boost their immune system. And plant based protein will be the future choice, I believe," Lu said.