Chinese homegrown food tech Zhenmeat has recently revealed two new products – plant-based pork tenderloin and crayfish – which will be available in domestic restaurant chains. The latest additions to the startup’s original line up, which included vegan sausages, mooncakes and meatballs, are designed specifically to suit Chinese cuisines and appetites.
Zhenmeat, dubbed “China’s Impossible Foods rival”, has unveiled two new plant-based meat substitutes: crayfish and pork tenderloin. While the former will be launched in both Chinese and Western food outlets across the country, the pork tenderloin will be rolled out specifically in Sichuan hot pot restaurant chains.
Speaking to SCMP, founder Vince Lu said that the pork tenderloin was invented after a technological breakthrough involving sweet potato starch. Its original protein texture technology was used to make its fungus and pea protein-based minced pork and beef meat analogues, which debuted in several formats, such as its plant-based sausages, meatballs, mooncakes and dumplings.
A vegan pork tenderloin product, argues Lu, will help bring plant-based foods to mainstream Chinese consumers who have specific tastes and cuisine preferences, such as in hot pot meals.
“We stand out from such overseas competitors due to our focus on Chinese cuisine. Hot pot is [one of the biggest cuisines] in China,” Lu told the SCMP. Basically, all diners will order a dish of pork when doing Sichuan hotpot.”
Zhenmeat’s other new product, a crayfish substitute made with seaweed, plant fibres and konjac extract, is also specifically targeting Chinese consumers, who currently drive 90% of global crayfish consumption. The company also said that it hopes to roll out complementary products, such as plant-based sauce for crayfish and crayfish burgers.
It isn’t the first food tech to dive into the crayfish market. Singapore-based Growthwell group recently announced it had acquired a stake in Israeli company ChickP to develop the world’s first chickpea protein isolate that can be used to create Asia-specific vegan products, including a burger patty resembling crab or crayfish meat.
After a public statement seeking US$2 million in funding, Zhenmeat recently secured financing from alternative protein investor Big Idea Ventures (BIV), marking the venture capital firm’s first overseas investment.
BIV already has a strong foothold in the emerging plant-based protein ecosystem across Asia, having backed Singapore-based cultivated shrimp company Shiok Meats and India’s first vegan egg startup Evo Foods. Most recently, BIV partnered with Swiss food manufacturing giant Bühler to railroad plant-based protein innovation in Asia.
Lu believes that the coronavirus pandemic will accelerate Chinese consumer demand for plant-based alternatives, following what was already a crisis for the domestic meat industry as African swine fever inundated China’s pork supplies.
He added that while his brand’s overseas competitors have made headlines in China, notably Beyond Meat’s launch in KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell as well as in Starbucks’ new meatless menu nationwide, Zhenmeat holds an advantage when it comes to satisfying native Chinese palates.
“We, as a local player, have a better grasp of the intricacies of the local market, like the taste of the local population, and how to network with the local restaurant sector, and negotiate bureaucratic hurdles,” Lu explained to SCMP.
But Zhenmeat isn’t the only regional plant-based startup with an edge when it comes to the Asia market. Hong Kong-based Green Monday, for instance, launched its vegan pork mince alternative Omnipork in 2018, and is now served at hundreds of restaurants across Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan as well as mainland China.
All images courtesy of Zhenmeat.