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In between sampling bubble waffles and copious amounts of dim sum, I got to meet with David Yeung, founder of the Green Monday enterprise. Green Monday is an umbrella organization which includes a non-profit educating consumers on the benefits of meat alternatives, a vegan grocery and wholesale operation, a venture arm, and a branded plant-based pork product called Omnipork.
Yeah. David Yeung is busy.
During my visit I also got to put Omnipork to a taste test. I sampled it tucked in a fried gyoza, crumbled on top of a bowl of ramen, and stuffed inside sweet puff pastry dim sum.
Overall, I thought Omnipork worked pretty well as a pork substitute. It doesn’t have the same unctuous fattiness of actual pork, at least partially because it’s lower in saturated fat, but it’s still tasty and the texture hits close to the mark.
Omnipork is essentially flavorless — which is both a good and bad thing. Yeung told me this was very intentional; he wanted to make a product that was endlessly versatile so it could be incorporated into a wide variety of Asian dishes. However, it can also make for a pretty bland bite if not properly seasoned or combined with tasty sauces.
The versatility bit is key. Yeung’s overarching goal is to make a comprehensive platform to cut down on Asia’s consumption of animal products, starting with the continent’s most popular meat: pork. Yeung said that Asian consumers might have a burger every month or so, but they incorporate ground pork into multiple meals daily. He figured that if he wanted to create a plant-based protein that could have a shot at taking a bite out of growing meat consumption in Asia, he had to make a product specifically tailored for that audience.
Crazily enough, he’s the first to do so. When people think about the new wave of fake meat products, their thoughts automatically turn to Silicon Valley. While there’s certainly plenty of innovation there, Asia is actually the area that seems in most need of tasty, cheap plant-based protein: meat consumption there is projected to rise by 78 percent by 2050, and recent outbreaks have made meat prices skyrocket and also triggered consumer demand for a safer alternative.
I left Hong Kong feeling both inspired by Yeung’s progress and daunted by how far he has to go. If he wants to take a bite out of Asian pork consumption, he’ll need to get Omnipork on a lot more plates. Making it into tasty gyozas is certainly a good start.
Beyond Meat skips Japan
Like any alternative-protein nerd, I kept my eyes peeled during my time in Tokyo to see if I came across any plant-based meat, eggs, etc.
No dice. And now it seems that at least one major alt-protein player won’t be entering the Japanese market at all, at least for a while. Last week Reuters reported that Beyond Meat had dropped plans to start selling in Japan, instead opting to double down on the U.S. market.
This is a change in tune from Beyond CEO’s Ethan Brown statement during the company’s first earnings call a few months ago. Then, he outlined Beyond’s aggressive expansion plan, naming Asia as one of the key areas of focus.
That being said, it makes sense why Beyond has to hit the pause button on outward growth and turned their attention back stateside. The company has announced multiple fast-food partnerships over the past few weeks alone, including large rollouts with Dunkin’ and Subway. A product shortage would be very, very bad right now, as Beyond competes with Impossible Foods in a race to snag the most fast-food partners and steels itself for Impossible to enter retail later this year.
No wonder Beyond has turned its attention back to the U.S.
Cafeteria special: Meatless meat
As I mentioned above, alternative meat companies have been grabbing headlines lately by partnering with large fast-food chains like Burger King, Subway and Dunkin’. But recently, two new alt-meat partnerships have flown relatively under the media radar — and they shouldn’t.
Last week food service management company Sodexo announced it would launch a new product line featuring the Impossible burger at 1,500 locations in the U.S. A few days later, news broke that food and facilities management giant Aramark would begin using Beyond Meat products to build out its plant-based meat portfolio.
Partnerships like these may not get as much press as fast-food launches, but teaming up with major food and facilities management companies is an important strategic move for companies like Impossible and Beyond.
Most obviously, it’s an opportunity for plant-based meat companies to massively expand their footprint and get their products on even more plates, selling to a captive audience at sports venues, concert halls, and cafeteria. Since both providers also serve a lot of university cafeterias, also a way for them to train younger generations of consumers to expect alternative proteins wherever they dine.
Beyond and Impossible may be just starting to ramp up foodservice expansion, but they’re not the first to do so. Plant-based chicken nugget company Rebellyous has been targeting large clients like cafeterias from the start (they just got into the Microsoft canteen).
If meat alternatives want to give real meat a serious run for its money, they’ll need to capture audience not just in restaurants and grocery stores, but also during their office lunch or ball game dinner. These partnerships are a great start.
Protein ’round the web
- An Australian startup is growing kangaroo meat in a lab (via the Wall Street Journal). They currently estimate it would cost about $600 Australian dollars (~$400 USD) to produce one kilogram.
- Edible insect company Chapul is no longer making protein bars. Instead, they’ll focus on growing bugs to use as fish and poultry feed (h/t Foodnavigator).
- At SKS Japan we spoke with Integriculture’s founder about his plan to sell cell-based foie gras in restaurants by 2021.
That’s it from me this week. I’m off to grab another coffee to keep my jet lag at bay.