What’s your beef? Chinese firms bet on plant-based meat

What’s your beef? Chinese firms bet on plant-based meat
A cashier holds plant-based meatballs produced by startup Zhenmeat for sale at a Beijing restaurant amid a swing to healthier eating in the country. (Reuters)
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Updated 16 September 2020

What’s your beef? Chinese firms bet on plant-based meat

What’s your beef? Chinese firms bet on plant-based meat
  • Its “meatballs” are now available on a trial basis at a Beijing store of Chinese hot-pot chain Hope Tree

BEIJING: A small but growing coterie of Chinese companies are betting on a bright future for plant-based meat products as consumers take their health more seriously in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Though still a niche business compared to China’s giant meat supply chain, vegetarian alternatives to meat are gaining ground following health scares like the novel coronavirius and African swine fever, analysts and industry insiders said.

US-based Beyond Meat Inc. said last week it had signed a deal to open a production facility near Shanghai and earlier this year launched a partnership with Starbucks Corp. for its plant-based meat products to be sold by the cafe giant in China.

Beijing-based startup Zhenmeat, whose products include plant-based meatballs, beef patty, steak and dumplings, is one of many small Chinese companies entering the market. Its “meatballs” are now available on a trial basis at a Beijing store of Chinese hot-pot chain Hope Tree.

“Now after COVID-19 consumers are more concerned about health and restaurant brands are responding to this,” Zhenmeat founder and CEO Vince Lu told Reuters in an interview, adding that sales were “up considerably” since June.

Many curious customers at the Beijing Hope Tree restaurant said the meatballs — made from a base of pea and soy protein — tasted like tofu.

“Actually you can tell that it isn’t meat, but the feel of it in your mouth is very similar to beef. And I guess that plant-based meat is a little healthier than beef,” said Audrey Jiang, 30.

China Market Research Group Director Ben Cavender said the key to the future of the plant-based meat market was the taste.

“When we interview consumers the vast majority say they’re open to trying these products once,” he said. “But the big question is how do they like it? Do they see how they can fit it into their diet on daily basis, whether that’s cooking at home or at restaurants? But if they do like it they’ll keep buying.”

Zhenmeat’s Lu said there was a lot of competition in the market but the real competitor was the meat industry itself.

“The most important thing is that our true competitors are not those global giants who have already achieved great success such as Beyond Meat or Impossible Foods,” he said.

“Our true competitor is the whole livestock sector. It’s the animal protein industry.”


Oil prices rise as market awaits deal output deal

Updated 03 December 2020

Oil prices rise as market awaits deal output deal

Oil prices rise as market awaits deal output deal
  • OPEC and its allies create uncertainty with two-day delay to meeting to decide whether to increase production

LONDON: Oil prices rose on Wednesday as the market awaited a pact from producers on output, which many traders expect will continue to be reined in, and Britain’s approval of a COVID-19 vaccine gave hopes for a demand recovery a boost.

Prices were hit earlier by a surprise build in oil inventories in the US and as OPEC and its allies created uncertainty with a two-day delay to a formal meeting to decide whether to increase production in January.

Brent crude oil futures were up 1.9 percent at $48.31 in late afternoon trade in London, while West Texas Intermediate crude was also up about 2 percent to $45.46.

Industry data from the American Petroleum Institute showed US crude inventories rose by 4.1 million barrels last week, compared with analysts’ expectations in a Reuters poll for a draw of 2.4 million barrels.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Russia and other allies, a group known as OPEC+, postponed talks on next year’s oil output policy to Thursday from Tuesday, according to sources.

The group this year imposed production cuts of 7.7 million barrels per day (bpd) as the coronavirus pandemic hit fuel demand.

It had been widely expected to roll those reductions over into January-March 2021 amid spikes in COVID-19 cases.

But the UAE said this week that even though it could support a rollover, it would struggle to continue with the same deep output reductions into 2021.

“Energy markets will remain on edge until OPEC+ gets past tomorrow’s meeting. Oil prices should continue to have underlying support as vaccine makers announce start dates for beginning immunizations,” he added.

Britain on Wednesday became the first western country to approve a COVID-19 vaccine, jumping ahead of the US and the EU in what may be a first step toward a return to normal life and boost to oil consumption.