Last week I visited Kind Kitchen in Hong Kong and got to taste a special type of pork gyoza that was juicy, tender, and delicious — and also happened to be made entirely of plants.
Kind Kitchen is part of Green Common, a group of plant-based retail shops and restaurants. In addition to the physical outlets in Hong Kong, Green Common also has a wholesale operation which distributes vegan products to thousands of grocery stores and restaurants throughout Asia. Its products are also available for consumers to purchase online.
Even as the number of flexitarians in Asia begins to rise and the Chinese government calls for a cut in meat consumption, vegan products can be hard to come by in Hong Kong. Asia is the world’s largest consumer of pork, and right now, there aren’t any good alternatives on the market — especially those that would appeal to the dietary preferences of an Asian audience.
According to David Yeung, founder of Green Common and its parent company Green Monday, it can be hard for Western people to understand Asia’s relationship with pork. “Pork is a foundation ingredient in everyday cooking,” Yeung told me over milk tea (made with Oatly) at Kind Kitchen. “Almost like salt and pepper.”
To address that shortage of pork alternatives while still respecting the dish’s cultural significance, Yeung launched Omnipork under his Right Treat brand last year in Hong Kong. The minced “pork” product is made of soy, pea protein, shiitake mushrooms, and rice. It has no cholesterol and higher amounts of calcium and iron than pork, but slightly less protein.
Yeung decided to develop Omnipork with a relatively neutral flavor to optimize versatility, so it can be used to make everything from dumplings to meat sauce.
In addition to Hong Kong, Omnipork is also sold at roughly 1,000 suppliers in Macau, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand. Nearly two-thirds of its distribution points are restaurants, ranging in fanciness from hawker stalls in Singapore to 3 Michelin star dining establishments.
Yeung has aggressive expansion plans in mind: He told me that by the end of the year he expects to sell Omnipork at close to 5,000 outlets. The number will rise to roughly 10,000 outlets after their anticipated entrance into the Chinese market over the next few months. By the beginning of 2020, he hopes Omnipork will be available in up to 15 countries. His team is also developing new Omnipork products, such as dumplings and ready-to-eat meals.
A 230 gram pack sells for around $40 HKD ($5 USD) at Green Common. According to Yeung, that puts it on par with regular pork. In fact in some cases it’s a lot cheaper, since the African Swine Virus has recently depleted the Chinese pig population and made pork prices skyrocket in Asia.
But no matter how cost competitive it is, people won’t buy meat alternatives unless they taste good. After my taste test experience, I think that Omnipork measures up. Sure, its texture is slightly spongier than pork, and it has a slight pea protein aftertaste. But while it doesn’t have a ton of flavor on its own, it meshes super well into a variety of dishes, from ramen to dumplings.
Realizing the unmet demand for plant-based foods, Western companies are also beginning to target Asia as an emerging market for plant-based products. JUST sells its animal-free egg scramble in Singapore, Hong Kong, and China, and Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are also available in several Asian countries. Earlier this week Smithfield, the world’s largest pork producer (and interestingly owned by a Hong Kong-based company), announced the launch of its new line of plant-based protein, though hasn’t specified if it will sell its new products in Asia.
Hong Kong was actually the first area to carry Beyond Meat outside the U.S. — at Green Common. That isn’t exactly surprising, since Yeung was an early investor in Beyond through his Green Monday Ventures platform (yes, another branch of his plant-based empire).
There are also a few players beginning to make meat alternatives in Asia, mostly in the cell-based meat space. In Singapore Shiok Meats is developing cultured shrimp, and back in Hong Kong Avant Meats is developing lab-grown fish swim bladders.
When I asked Yeung if he was planning on selling Omnipork in Europe or the U.S., he seemed hesitant. He said that they were hoping to expand outside of Asia over the next year but will continue to keep their focus on that part of the world. “It’s a white space, a complete vacuum,” he said, indicating how few plant-based products are developed specifically for Asian palates and dining patterns.
The world’s meat consumption is projected to rise. Pair that with a growing population, climate change, and food safety issues, and Asia is primed to be a leading market for meat alternatives. “We built a platform a platform for the entire future food ecosystem,” Yeung said. “Now we want to catalyze it.”