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Future Food Now: Asia-Pacific (#9)

Welcome back after a pretty long break! There has been a lot going on in a plant-based and cell-based
Future Food Now: Asia-Pacific (#9)
By Michal Klar • Issue #9 • View online
Welcome back after a pretty long break! There has been a lot going on in a plant-based and cell-based markets in Asia-Pacific, so expect more content than usual. Let’s get straight to the news…

Omnipork and Impossible Foods in mainland China
Source: Right Treat and Impossible Foods
Source: Right Treat and Impossible Foods
Global and regional plant-based brands have been expanding to new markets in Asia-Pacific for past few years, but almost no-one entered the mainland China yet (with exception of the limited launch of JUST Egg, on which I reported in previous issues).
It is starting to change now.
Green Monday Group, which owns Omnipork has held an official launch event in Beijing. The group announced that Omnipork has started rolling out at selected hotels and restaurants in China, beginning with Grand Hyatt Beijing.
Other launch partners include healthy cafe network Wagas, which will feature Omnipork in their new “Flexitarian Future” menu as well as Shanghai high-end hotels Park Hyatt, Cordis and The Langham, Tsui Wah Restaurant and Taco Bell with “OmniPork Crunchy Taco with Yu Xiang Sauce”.
In total over 180 foodservice outlets in Beijing and Shanghai will offer Omnipork in the next two months.
On November 29th (Black Friday), Green Monday Group is launching Green Common online store at Alibaba’s Tmall Global platform, which will make Omnipork and ~40 other plant-based brands available to mainland China consumers. The selection will include Alpha Foods, Califia Farms, Daiya Foods and Gardein, which are all the brands that Green Monday is already distributing in HK and other markets.
Notably missing is Beyond Meat, for which Green Monday Group holds exclusive distribution rights in selected Asian markets. Beyond will presumably enter China on their own in the future, possibly setting up separate manufacturing there.
Impossible Foods is also making moves in China, recently showcasing its plant-based meat during China International Import Expo in Shanghai, where it expected to serve 50,000 samples to visitors. The dishes created with Impossible’s meat by celebrity chef Jeremy Leung included siu mai dumplings and shi zi tou meatballs.
Despite various media reporting the event as “the first taste of Impossible Foods in China”, there is a restaurant in Shenzhen that has been serving Impossible Burgers for months, bringing the product from Hong Kong, just across the border.
On China’s most popular type of meat - pork - the company’s founder and CEO, Pat Brown said in the Bloomberg interview at the event: “We already have very good prototypes of plant-based pork. It’s really just a matter of commercialising and scaling that.” (in the US, Impossible Foods is already offering “plant-based sausage” to two selected pizza chains).
Impossible Foods will likely have to go through regulatory hurdles to start officially selling the product to consumers in China and might be even forced to change the recipe and/or production process: as reported by Financial Times, there are restrictions on use of genetically modified ingredients in food sold in China (Impossible has openly embraced GMOs, both in making their plant-based heme as well as using genetically engineered soy protein as the main ingredient).
Possibly that’s one of the reasons why Pat Brown has been talking about setting up sourcing and manufacturing in China. The company has also recently started advertising a China Development Director position in Shanghai with a focus on preparing a market entry strategy and building key relationships.
My take: From both economic and mission/impact standpoint, China is obviously the Holy Grail for all plant-based startups - the largest population with already huge and one of the fastest growing animal meat consumption on the planet. But it is also one of the most tricky markets to penetrate. Two largest American players, Beyond and Impossible, seem to be taking a measured approach, both considering setting up local manufacturing, which will surely take some time. Omnipork, on the other hand, is already there (as of early November) and hailing from Hong Kong with the bulk of the production done in Thailand, it seems well-positioned to start addressing the Chinese market. The price will likely be one of the challenges: even with all the recent spikes of animal-based pork due to African Swine Fever, Omnipork is about 2-3x more expensive. That’s why it makes perfect sense for them to start the expansion from high-end hotels and restaurants.
Cell-based meat startups in Asia-Pacific show prototypes and raise funding
Source: Avant Meats
Source: Avant Meats
In the last few months, four cell-based meat and seafood startups from across Asia-Pacific region have publicly presented early prototypes of their products. In many cases, they have even set up product tastings.
Avant Meats from Hong Kong has organised the first tasting of their cell-based fish maw (swim bladder product that is used in Chinese cuisine) during Future Food Summit event in October. It has been used as an ingredient in ‘potato fishball’ (video here).
Founder Carrie Chan said Avant closed “a small pre-seed round” earlier this year from Lever VC, CPT Capital and Loyal VC and is planning to raise US$3m in seed capital, which will allow working on fish fillet prototype scheduled for late next year.
Singapore’s Shiok Meats is also working on cell-based seafood with focus on crustaceans. In March they did the first limited tasting of siu mai dumpling with cultivated shrimp cells and Quorn plant-based mince during the press event (cost: ~US$450 per dumpling). They are now serving the same kind of dumpling to selected investors and visitors at their lab-office.
Shiok collected US$4.6m in seed round earlier in 2019 - from Y Combinator, Big Idea Ventures and CEO of Monde Nissin (owner of Quorn) among others. Last month Shiok received funding from LSE-listed Agronomics, that is required to publicly disclose terms of their investments, which include Blue Nalu, New Age Meats and other prominent alt-protein startups. According to the recent release Agronomics invested US$500k in Shiok as a convertible note with US$22m valuation cap and 20% discount. Sriram told me her company is currently “raising US$15m Series A for manufacturing and commercialisation”.
Australian cell-based meat company, VOW Foods is differentiating itself by focusing on 'exotic’ meats. They have presented their prototype in the form of 'kangaroo dumpling’ (photo) with few grams of cultivated kangaroo meat, that took four weeks to make in the lab (at cost of ~US$1350 per kg). They also have shown cultivated meat of “Berkshire pig cooked into Tuscan ragu” (photo). According to co-founders Tim Noakesmith and George Peppou, current “tricky” Australian regulations prevented them from offering a tasting to journalists during the press event.
VOW is not yet disclosing any funding details (other than a small grant received from NSW government).
Another Australian startup operating in a cell-based space is Heuros. Instead of focusing on the meat itself, the founder Nick Beaumont is working on creating “a simple, elegant medium that promotes muscle cell growth in culture”, which can be an ethical and affordable replacement for most commonly used fetal bovine serum. To demonstrate his solution, Beaumont recently produced 4-gram piece of mouse muscle which he has shown during New Harvest 2019 conference in July. The company is currently “establishing agreements” to work with 2 or 3 cell-based meat startups.
Last year, Heuros received an undisclosed amount in funding from one of the largest Australian VCs, Blackbird.
My take: Public demonstration of an early prototype is without the doubt an important milestone for any cell-based startup. What these four young startups showed so far are of course very rudimentary versions - and they were expensive to make. Even with new solutions like Heuros’ affordable growth medium, millions of dollars for R&D will be necessary to bring these products to commercialisation. So far there seems to be no shortage of investors interested in putting money in their ventures, but startups will have to show clear progress to continue to raise more funds at ever-increasing valuations.
Australian supermarkets add dozens of plant-based products
Source: Woolworths
Source: Woolworths
In the recent months Woolworths and Coles, two leading Australian supermarket chains with over 60% grocery market share, have been putting a record number of new plant-based products on shelves.
Woolworths alone added over 40 new SKUs in the chilled section: meat and dairy alternatives and ready-to-heat meals.
New offerings are a mix of imported and locally made products. Coles is stocking Beyond Burgers from the US and Sunfed Chicken from NZ, while Woolworths recently started selling burgers and sausages from the UK startup Moving Mountains as well as Miyoko’s dairy-free cheeses and butter.
Coles has also introduced its own affordable plant-based range under home brand Herb&Sons with 11 SKUs ranging from burger patties (~50% cheaper than Beyond’s) to nuggets and even Chicken Kiev (some products contain dairy).
One of the new startups that is working exclusively with Woolworths is Cale&Daughters, co-founded by Australian plant-based industry veteran Cale Drouin. They have two separate product ranges: seasoned, ready-to-heat meals and dairy-free spreadable cheeses under Made with Plants brand as well as Asian-style meat and seafood alternatives under PlantAsia. The latter is an interesting attempt of rebranding and repackaging of existing Asian “mock meat” products, in this case originating from Malaysia, to make it appealing for the Western consumer.
I asked Drouin why he has chosen an exclusive partnership with one retailer. He said it comes down to price: skipping the middle-man saves significant costs (distributor margin) and allows to offer an attractive and competitive price to the end consumer. It also makes logistics much easier and thanks to the significant market share of Woolworths, Cale&Daughters can still reach a big chunk of the flexitarian target market. Drouin is happy with the initial sales (“higher than we expected”) and plans to introduce more brands and products in the future.
My take: It’s not at all surprising that supermarkets are jumping on plant-based and flexitarian trend. But will the consumer demand grow fast enough to meet this surge in supply? Or is it part of Aussie retailers’ strategy - they will see what sticks and remove products that do not perform? It’s still a new category for them and it’s not entirely obvious what works. The products that survive will undoubtedly need to have superior taste/price ratio. Private brands and exclusive partnerships might prove to be one effective way of getting there.
Plant-based chicken from Europe launches in Singapore and Hong Kong
Source: Foods For Tomorrow
Source: Foods For Tomorrow
Spanish startup Foods For Tomorrow, has brought its flagship Heura plant-based chicken to Asia. They partnered with Green Monday Group and officially launched the product in Singapore, at Grand Hyatt’s food truck - bringing back the concept that has previously been used to launch products from Beyond Meat, JUST and Omnipork. The product is now available for foodservice outlets in Hong Kong and Singapore with a retail pack coming into stores in coming months. It’s the first new-generation plant-based meat product from Europe to launch in South East Asia.
I spoke with Jerome Pagnier, who is now MD International at Foods For Tomorrow, based in Barcelona. Previously, as Director of F&B for Grand Hyatt Singapore, he was overseeing the food truck launches for other plant-based brands, which gives him a unique perspective on the city’s and region’s alt-protein scene.
FFN: Hi Jerome. How many plant-based chicken sandwiches have been sold during the food truck launch event?
Jerome: Over 2000. Amazing to see the response from the Singapore public!
FFN: Why have you chosen Singapore as the first country to launch the product in Asia?
Jerome: In past year Singapore has become the heart of sustainable food technology in Asia. It is a mature market with a population increasingly health conscious and aware of their environmental impact. That’s a perfect fit for Foods For Tomorrow.
FFN: Have you seen much interest in your product from foodservice and retail partners in Asia?
Jerome: Yes, an incredible interest so far from Singapore and Hong Kong. It is a credit to the quality of our product, the strength of our marketing and the partnership with Green Monday.
FFN: How do you think the market changed during the last 12 months since you first launched Beyond Meat products into Singapore?
Jerome: I’m really impressed with the growth of the plant-based market in Singapore. Warms my heart to see category builders such as Beyond and Impossible Foods being so well represented here. I do think there is still a lot of room to grow. And it can happen fast, Singapore is known for embracing new trends. My dream is to see this city as the first to reduce animal product consumption by 50% before 2030. I do think it’s possible.
FFN: Thanks for the interview.
My take: Chicken is one of the most consumed meats in Asia and there was a visible lack of new generation plant-based version available for foodservice and retail outlets in more mature markets like Hong Kong and Singapore. Foods For Tomorrow filled the gap for now - some restaurants even started to use the product to recreate iconic dishes, like Singapore’s classic Hainanese Chicken Rice at flexitarian-friendly Prive Tiong Bahru. Plant-based chicken is increasingly popular sub-category globally and I expect more products like that to come to Asia soon - and possibly some local startups tackling it as well.
More news...
🥛 TurtleTree Labs is a startup from Singapore working on cell-based cow’s milk that could be used for to make “baby formula, cheese, butter, yoghurt and creams for cooking”, according to ex-Googler co-founder Fengru Lin. She is joined by Max Rye (IT/tech background) and Mkulima Britt, whos family business is California dairy producer Clover Sonoma. Their R&D lead Rabail Toor has been recently promoted to a co-founder status as well. The company has received grants from EnterpriseSG, but has been mostly bootstrapped so far - and is now in the process of raising US$5-8m round with a goal to make “full glass of milk” MVP in early 2020 and opening pilot facility in Singapore by end of 2020.

💰 Abillionveg, startup from Singapore offering an app with consumer reviews of plant-based dishes and products, has closed US$2m seed round lead by VC firm 500 Startups, bringing their total funding to ~US2.6m.

⚛️ Big Idea Ventures, a hybrid VC and accelerator fund with backing of Temasek and Tyson Foods, focused exclusively on plant-based and cell-based companies, has launched its first cohort in Singapore. Asian meat alternative startups in the cohort include Karana (natural meat mimics from jackfruit) and Phuture Foods (plant-based pork), plant-based lamb startup Black Sheep Food is US-based, but wants to focus on Asia-Pacific markets.

🍔 Australian startup v2food has launched its first product in partnership with Hungry Jack’s (Australia’s brand for Burger King): a soy-based patty designed for new Rebel Whopper. The plant-based burger’s price is the same as an original animal-based Whopper’s. Hungry Jack’s founder, billionaire Jack Cowin is an investor in v2food, alongside federal research agency CSIRO. Asked about the initial sales, the startup’s CEO Nick Hazell told me they are “well on the way towards the first million burgers” and expect to announce more products coming weeks.

🏭 v2food has also announced it is planning to raise more funds to build AU$20m (US$13.6m) manufacturing facility for “processing grain legumes into alternatives to meat”. According to AFR article, the new factory’s construction will commence before end of this year and it will “initially focus on burger patties, leveraging the expertise of Competitive Foods’ existing facility in Brisbane which already processes 30,000 tonnes of meat a year both for Hungry Jack’s and for export”. One of v2food initial investors is Queens Road Capital from Hong Kong and “exports to Asia figured heavily in v2’s business plan”. Earlier this year another group in Australia has announced a new plant protein extraction facility in Victoria region with similar size of investment planned (AU$20m).

🇦🇺 Impossible Foods is looking for country managers for Australia/New Zealand (based in Sydney) and Thailand (based in Bangkok), indicating the upcoming launch in these markets and suggesting food safety approvals may have been completed or nearing completion. Impossible’s declined to provide any more details. Outside of the US, Impossible’s products are only available at restaurants in Hong Kong/Macau and Singapore, with ~450 foodservice outlets and the business more than tripling since March 2019.

🍕 Pizza Express India introduced a dairy-free cheese option across all outlets in Mumbai and Delhi. Their supplier is a local company Soft Spot Foods, which also sells their plant-based cheese at 40+ retail outlets in Mumbai area.

🇹🇭 Green Monday Group from Hong Kong officially launched in Thailand, making products like Beyond Burger, Beyond Sausage, Daiya dairy-free cheese available to the country’s food service outlets. The launch also includes Green Monday’s own alt-meat product, OmniPork, which for Thailand has been rebranded twice - initially as OmniMince and now as OmniMeat (the company previously explained they will use OmniMince/OmniMeat in the countries where they plant to apply for halal certification).
Articles, resources, and events
📗 Food Frontier in partnership with Life Health Foods published consumer research from Australia and New Zealand showing that about 1/3 of Aussies and Kiwis are now ‘meat reducers’ or 'flexitarians’, while further 10% do not eat meat at all (download full reports here).

Green Queen HK reports on WeWork’s apparent backtracking on its environment-motivated company wide “meat-free” policy that gained a lot of publicity globally last year, serving pork broth and chicken&bacon sandwiches at two Singapore locations.

🇸🇬 Interesting summary here of the study by Temasek + A*STAR + Deloitte on climate change impact of various foods in Singapore, which is different from most markets due to the vast majority of the food being imported. Spoiler: pork came on top with 28% share of all food-related emissions in the city-state.

📅 “Meat: The Alternative” is an event in Singapore on Nov 22nd, co-organised by AgFunder and Makana Ventures at Shangri-La hotel, promising tastings of the latest plant-based products from local and international startups and talks on the topic (tickets here).

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Michal Klar

A digest of plant-based and cell-based business news from Asia-Pacific.

Covering: new protein startups, funding, product launches, major events, consumer trends and more.

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