Caixin
Jun 10, 2021 08:00 PM
BUSINESS & TECH

OmniFoods Hopes Chinese Diners Will Fall Hook, Line and Sinker for Plant-Based Seafood

OmniFoods range of faux seafood products includes two types of plant-based fish-substitute fillet, as well as a burger, and tuna and salmon substitutes. Photo: Omnifoods
OmniFoods range of faux seafood products includes two types of plant-based fish-substitute fillet, as well as a burger, and tuna and salmon substitutes. Photo: Omnifoods

OmniFoods, best known for making plant-based pork substitute OmniPork, will launch a range of artificial seafood on the Chinese mainland and in Hong Kong, its parent company has said, deepening its push into one of the world’s fastest-growing markets for alternative proteins.

The range will include two types of plant-based fish-substitute fillet, as well as a burger, and tuna and salmon substitutes, according to a statement from Hong Kong-based Green Monday Holdings.

Whereas most artificial meat products on the market retail at higher prices than their animal-derived counterparts, Green Monday founder David Yeung said at a launch event Wednesday in Hong Kong that the mock seafood products would be priced the same as real frozen fish.

OmniFoods said the products will go on sale in September, except for the salmon alternative, which does not have a launch date.

The product line “reinforces OmniFoods’ commitment to promote a sustainable ecosystem that treats the planet, animals and us, right,” the statement said.

China’s plant-based meat market was worth about 6.1 billion yuan ($955 million) in 2018 and has been growing at a double-digit pace, according to a report by the Good Food Institute, a nonprofit organization.

The burgeoning sector is securing a foothold in what is already the world’s largest meat market, where per capita consumption is growing every year though still remains well below the United States and other developed economies.

Although studies show that public awareness of plant-based meats in China remains limited, they appear to have gained ground among younger consumers and those in more-developed cities, two groups that are relatively more likely to embrace lifestyles they perceive as healthy and less damaging to the environment.

Fake meat producers have long stressed the latter issue. Around 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, a key driver of climate change, come from livestock, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. Similarly, scientists have blamed overfishing for high levels of marine pollution and a dramatic decline in ocean species in recent decades.

OmniFoods said its artificial seafood aims to combat excessive fishing, which “takes a tremendous toll on the ocean ecosystem.” All of the new products are made with non-genetically modified (GMO) soybeans, peas and rice, the company said, adding that they are also free from trans-fats, cholesterol and additives and are suitable for vegan and Buddhist diets.

OmniFoods is one of several Chinese fake meat-makers going toe-to-toe with overseas brands like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods by adapting protein alternatives to local tastes.

Last year, Green Monday raised $70 million in a financing round led by U.S. investment firm TPG’s The Rise Fund and Hong Kong conglomerate Swire Pacific. The company said it would use the capital to strengthen research, expand its retail networks and boost its production, distribution and supply chain.

OmniFoods is not the first firm to venture into seafood substitutes. New Wave Food, a U.S. based startup that makes plant-based “shrimp” using seaweed and soy protein, completed an $18 million financing round earlier this year.

Brands like OmniFoods, which use vegetable blends that they say come from non-GMO sources, have an edge in China over companies like Impossible Foods, which rely on genetically modified, lab-grown products that have so far failed to win regulatory approval.

While Chinese policymakers have gradually been signaling support for meat alternatives as a path to agricultural self-sufficiency — including those with GMO components — firms that use such components will need to work hard to win hearts and minds.

A survey of some 2,000 Chinese consumers conducted in 2016 and published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature found that 46.7% of respondents held a negative view of GM food compared with just 11.9% who held a positive view.

Flynn Murphy contributed reporting.

Contact reporter Matthew Walsh (matthewwalsh@caixin.com) and editor Joshua Dummer (joshuadummer@caixin.com)

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