Experts say 'fake meat' may not cook up a storm in China
Food safety is another big concern for Chinese consumers.
According to a report released by global market researcher Ipsos in August, 74 percent of respondents said they were worried that plant-based meat substitutes would be overprocessed and contain too many additives, while 64 percent expressed concern about the absence of industry standards.
He Hongyi, who works for a technology company in Beijing, said she would not try faux meat because she knew little about it and was worried about the risks.
"Man-made meat might have something to do with genes and cells. You have to make it both understandable and affordable－these are the two indispensable factors," she said.
Ling, the media worker, said she had read articles about plant-based meat, which she concluded was a kind of highly processed food made via several complicated procedures that retailers boasted was "high technology".
"I am not sure if the nutritional value is really so good. On the contrary, I tend to find old-fashioned Chinese soy products more reassuring because they are made with more traditional processing methods," she said.
Lyu Zhongming, Zhenmeat's founder, said the market is still at an early stage, and three main types of people are likely to be attracted to it: young people, driven by curiosity; those returning from overseas and pursuing a better quality of life; and people with special needs because of health conditions or religious beliefs.
While acknowledging that faux-meat products have not yet succeeded in breaking into mainstream diets, Lyu sees potential because he believes plant-based meat can provide a solution to the problem of future protein supply.
"There is continuous growth in Chinese consumers' demand for meat. We face a gap of 10 million metric tons of meat this year, which is being filled by imports," he said.
"This is the opportunity we see. People's demand for meat will become even greater, but there will be a gap in the supply of animal protein. So, in the future, plant-based protein can become a perfect supplement and may change people's lifestyles."
Freelance food engineering expert Yun Wuxin said the faux-meat industry is a booming investment option in China and is attracting great interest.
"Many people will try it out of curiosity, but according to my experience, overall consumer feedback is unsatisfactory," he said.
"To put it bluntly, the domestic industry and capital are still confused about their positioning. They just think it is trendy and cool, and they do not have a clear picture of consumer market demand and future positioning."
According to Yun, the domestic faux-meat market is very different from that in Western countries, which has very clear selling points.
First, a boom in vegetarianism overseas has seen a large number of consumers opt for plant-based cuisine.
Second, environmentalists claim production of plant-based protein emits fewer greenhouse gases than raising livestock. This campaign is very popular abroad, encouraging numerous young people to turn to a plant-based diet.
"These are the two most important points. But it's very hard to say how many people in China will actually accept and deal with them," Yun said, adding that he is not particularly optimistic.
He added that faux-meat manufacturers urgently need to bring the taste closer to that of real meat and push prices as low as possible.
"Price is not a serious factor in Western countries because many people are willing to pay for the sake of vegetarianism and sustainable development of the planet. But how many people in China are willing to pay a higher price for fake meat over real meat remains very uncertain," he said.
Yun pointed out that even if prices could be dragged lower than those for real meat, which is technically achievable, there would be concerns that people would only try the products out of curiosity.
That perceived lack of a long-term market could see the sector becoming less attractive to investors and the food industry.
"It remains to be seen how exactly this sector will develop," he said.
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