Vince Lv, CEO of Zhen Meat Company, which focuses on meat substitute innovation through plant-based food, is a pioneer in China’s food market. He shared his experience with us from the perspective of a start-up company doing business in China.
Q: What is Zhen Meat and its objective?
A: Zhen Meat (zhen means “precious” in Mandarin) was established in 2019, the year that plant-based food first hit the mainstream market.
In 2019, several iconic events, the IPO of BEYOND MEAT, Africa’s swine fever, and Starbucks’ launch of a plant-based meat menu, took place, drawing the public’s interest.
All these events have brought more attention to the food industry. Our focus on alternative meat protein innovation has increased as we have seen opportunities in not only in development, but also within many successful and mature companies in Europe and the U.S.
Q: What challenges does Zhen Meat face?
A: 40% of the world’s food giants have either announced their interest in, or already jumped into the world of plant-based food full-force. The largest sector in this industry is, in fact, plant-based meat. Believe it or not, China is the world’s number one consumer market for meat, consuming 88 million tons per year. As a start-up company in China, we believe that we can take advantage of this trend, because foreign MNCs will not only educate the market, but also influence the growth of consumer acceptance. We are focusing more on the research and development of Chinese-style products. Research and development are behind the solution, including breaking core technical barriers and matching the technology and application. As a start-up company, we believe that if you want to stand out, you must “make it first.”
Q: What products are you making now and why are they different?
A: In the U.S., we all know how iconic burgers are, and plant-based burgers have become increasingly popular. We have been looking for a similar point of entry for plant-based food within the Chinese cooking industry.
We have a lot of ideas but need time to experiment. Some of our ideas so far include a hotpot plant meatball and plant-based crayfish products. Additionally, we have combined plant protein with konjac and seaweed to make products that imitate shrimp. We even have products like small crispy meat snacks.
These are the results of cooperation between industry production and institution research, especially among the professional and experienced supply chains, which ensure a quick entry into the market. Innovations such as these demonstrate our greatest strengths and our work in alternative proteins!
Q: What are investors looking for?
A: Last year, were raised quite a bit of funding from the U.S. Reflecting on how we were able to gain that traction in investment, I concluded that as a start-up company, where all aspects of supply chain and technology are still in the embryonic stage, it is the DNA of the team presenting daily problem-solving capacity that matters to investors.
With a degree in polymer materials from university and work experience in the food industry, I had the honor to enter the domestic plant-based meat industry at a very early stage. All that experience becomes a combined power, implanting vitality and the ability to bring out innovation. It also goes to say, that it is the spirit of the team that persuades investors.
Q: What is most needed in China’s market and what do you foresee in its future?
A: Market education is key for plant-based food in China. We understand that the major issue faced is that the consumption of traditional proteins is too fragmented. We need more innovative and competitive products to be able to win in this market, so that the so-called new protein or plant-based food can capture the public’s attention.
The market can be infiltrated from top down. This would mean sharing and advocacy from key opinion leaders in nutrition, food science, and influential figures in society. This way, consumers would be more likely to accept and try a new product, which is necessary before they sustain the purchasing power.