Plant-based meat maker eyes China debut by 2020

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Impossible Foods, the US plant-based meat producer, expects to start selling its products in China by the end of 2020, according to a top company official.

According to Patrick Brown, founder and CEO of the California-based company that has taken Wall Street investors and Michelin-starred chefs by storm, Impossible will look to establish a complete plant-based meat industry in China, one that would replace the existing meat sector by 2035.

"We have wanted to do that for a long while, since the day I founded the company," he told China Daily during the recent China International Import Expo in Shanghai.

"China is the most important country for our mission. It consumes 28 percent of the meat in the world," added Brown, a former geneticist and biochemistry professor at Stanford University who calls the animal-based agriculture "the most important and urgent problem" on earth to fight climate change.

Founded in 2011, Impossible Foods is created out of the idea to replace conventional meat with soy-based protein. Since its launch, it has partnered with major chains like Burger King and White Castle to provide an alternative to their real meat burgers and seen huge demand in its home market.

"We have lots of restaurants and grocery chains (in China) contacting us since the launch. But we are not interested in being in the meat export business only for the long term," said Brown.

"We want to produce in China for Chinese consumers. It's both in the interest of China and us to minimize the environmental impact of the food system without starving people," he said, addressing his purpose to participate in the expo - to talk to potential partners and governments so as to build supply chain and manufacturing capabilities in the country.

In September, China's own plant-based meat company, Zhen Rou, put on shelves its first product - faux-meat-stuffed mooncakes - during the country's Mid-Autumn Festival.

Later that month, the startup company, founded by a team who used to make protein bars for gym-goers, announced its partnership with Beijing-based restaurant chain, Jin Ding Xuan, to develop a plant-based meat menu with Chinese dishes like grilled pork buns and minced meat topped noodles.

"We are not worried about that at all. We don't want to compete with other plant-based meat companies. We are competing with animal meat companies. That market is so huge. The problem for us is not the size of the market, or demand. It's being able to scale up our production," said Brown.

At the expo in Shanghai, however, instead of just giving out the company's signature plant-based patty, it also staged a cooking show by celebrity chef Jeremy Leung to create Chinese dishes like Siu Mai (steamed dumpling) and Shi Zi Tou (large fist-sized meatballs known as lion's head).

"Most people in the world love meat, but don't love the fact that it's made from dead animals. They accept the fact. The value of meat is its nutrition and deliciousness. If you can deliver the things that people value, most carnivores would love to abandon animal meat," said Brown.

"The biggest hurdle is that people don't believe meat made from plants tastes good. Once we get over that hurdle and have people try the product, a lot of them become repeat customers," he said.

Asked to evaluate the size of the plant-based meat market in China, he returned to his mission by affirming that "by 2035, all the meat in country could be plant based".

"People think it's crazy because they are so used to animal meat. But 200 years ago, we could only get wheels to work with horses. That's the same thing as we went from horses to mechanized transportation," he said.

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