Beyond Meat is increasing its presence in China, becoming the first foreign company specialising in plant-based meat to build production facilities in the country.
The US group said on Tuesday it would build a factory in the Jiaxing Economic and Technological Development Zone close to Shanghai to manufacture plant-based chicken, beef and pork under its brand.
Leading companies in the fast-growing sector have sought to expand into China, which consumes roughly a third of the world’s meat, in the hope that rising global appetite for alternative protein products will spread across the vast market.
Ethan Brown, chief executive and founder of Beyond Meat, said China was “one of the world’s largest markets for animal-based meat products, and potentially for plant-based meat”.
In May last year, Nestlé said it was investing in a plant-based production facility in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin. Beyond Meat’s main rival, Impossible Foods, is also exploring opportunities in China but requires regulatory approval there because one of its core ingredients is genetically engineered.
Beyond Meat announced in July it had formed a partnership with a supermarket chain owned by Chinese technology group Alibaba and would launch its burgers in Shanghai stores before expanding its offerings to other cities.
It has also partnered with Yum China, the fast-food chain operator that last week raised $2bn from a secondary share sale in Hong Kong.
The prospects for alternative meat in China have also been bolstered by pressure on the domestic pork industry, the country’s main source of animal-based protein.
Pork prices have spiralled higher in China after outbreaks of African swine fever in 2018 went on to decimate swine herds across the country.
This has been exacerbated by broader food price inflation this year following the coronavirus pandemic and extensive flooding, both of which hit food supply chains.
In July pork prices rose 85.7 per cent in July compared with the same month a year earlier, according to Nomura.
Enodo Economics last month said that while China had begun to increase consumption of overseas pork, “its logistical capacity to replace domestic losses with chilled or frozen imports is constrained”.
The coronavirus has also increased scrutiny on food safety after a prominent coronavirus outbreak at a Beijing market in June was blamed on salmon imports. In the same month China suspended imports of chicken from Tyson Foods, one of the biggest US food companies, after staff were infected at one of its facilities.
Beyond Meat’s expansion in China follows on from heightened competition in the European market. In June the company said it was launching a manufacturing facility in the Netherlands, its first in the continent.