Nestlé is opening a plant-based meat factory in China, its first in Asia

May 21, 2020, 7:44 AM UTC

The world’s largest market for meat is developing a taste for the fake stuff.

According to Euromonitor International, sales of plant-based meat in China increased from $7.2 billion in 2014 to $9.7 billion in 2018. Now Nestlé, the Swiss food and drink giant, plans to build a new manufacturing site in Tianjin—72 miles from Beijing—to churn out meat alternatives.

“In recent years, the food sector has undergone a quiet revolution as people are choosing more and more healthy, nutritious, and environmentally friendly foods,” Nestlé said in a statement Wednesday, announcing a $103 million investment in its China production facilities including the new faux-meat factory, Nestlé’s first in Asia.

Competition in China’s fake-meat industry has increased sharply the past two years as local startups, like three-year-old imitation-pork maker Zhenmeat, vie with long-established alt-meat brands, such as Whole Perfect Food, which was founded in 1993 and has annual sales of $4.6 million.  

Last year, Hong Kong–based Green Monday launched its alternative-pork product, called OmniPork, in mainland China. The group partnered with Alibaba to roll out sales online last year and teamed up with Yum China to trial an OmniPork offering across Taco Bell locations.

Besides Nestlé, other overseas manufacturers are jumping on the trend as well. U.S. agriculture giant Cargill partnered with Yum China to trial the release of its meat-free chicken nuggets across KFC in China. Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods—arguably the most famous alternative-meat makers—have recently entered the market as well.

Beyond Meat partnered with Starbucks to enter the market last month, putting vegetarian options on the coffeehouse’s menu. Impossible Foods debuted in mainland China in November 2019, at a one-off event in Shanghai, and has since launched an imitation-pork product no doubt designed to capture more of the China market. (China consumes nearly half the world’s pork.)

Even China’s own major meat manufacturers appear to be falling in line with the trend. WH Group, the world’s largest pig farmer, is a member of the China Plant Based Food Alliance—a government advisory committee formed under the State Administrator for Market Regulation.

By the time Nestlé’s China plant is up and running, the competition will already be far ahead.