The vegan movement has been on the rise in recent years. More and more people all around the world are opting to go vegan for ethical, environmental and health reasons. This has led to a greater demand for vegan-friendly products and services and China is no different. According to a report by Euromonitor International, China’s vegan food market is estimated to be worth nearly US$12 billion by 2023.
China is importing more and more fruits, vegetables and plant-based products as the Chinese growing middle class is turning to healthier meat alternatives and a vegan diet. This shift in Chinese netizens’ eating habits creates great opportunities for vegan brands, as there is still a lot of room to fill. In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at veganism in China and discuss some of the best ways to enter China’s vegan market. So, if you’re looking to learn more about the vegan movement, read on!
The return to veganism after years of meat consumption
Although meat consumption in China is very high in comparison to other countries and meat is a very important part of the Chinese diet, it wasn’t always the case. Before the economic reforms in the 80s’, Chinese cuisine was based on plant-based products and meat was treated as a delicacy for special occasions.
Later on, as the quality of life of the middle class improved, the consumption of meat, which is associated with luxury, increased. Meat is treated as an indicator of higher social status and wealth and therefore is always served at business meetings and other gatherings. But lately, with the rise of awareness among young middle-class consumers, plant-based meat market and other plant-based products are becoming a new trend in China.
Statistics of a plant-based diet in China (2022)
The vegan market in China is expected to reach US$12 billion by 2023, up from just under US$10 billion in 2018. The speed of growth will represent the fastest rate of growth at the international level. This move will follow a huge shift in consumer habits in Asia. The vegan movement is supported mostly by young people in major cities, as they are becoming more conscious about their health and following a worldwide trend.
Reports indicate that 5% of the Chinese population is vegan and the trend will be growing, as China is becoming more urbanised. Additionally, the Chinese government is planning to halve meat consumption by 2030 to control obesity, prevent other health diseases and cut carbon emissions. We can count around 150 million tonnes of carbon dioxide which is released into the atmosphere every year by the Chinese meat industry and the government is starting to realise the problem and cope with this issue.
China holds 53% of the global protein market and the plant-based protein industry is worth US$1.44 billion. What is more, China can process 79% of global soy protein isolate and is the major exporter of plant proteins. When it comes to plant-based meat products, according to a Statista survey conducted in 2020, 85% of respondents were willing to try plant-based meat dishes in a restaurant.
What are the reasons for a shift in consumers’ behaviour
As everywhere else in the world, the vegan movement attracts more and more people, but the reasons for them to turn to a plant-based diet differ. When it comes to Chinese people, they decide to cut their meat consumption mainly because of several reasons listed below;
A shift towards a healthier lifestyle
China’s health industry released new dietary guidelines recommending the importance to reduce meat consumption. According to the Business World report, this statement already has an impact on society, as the sales of meat products like pork, beef and poultry are declining.
Chinese people are becoming more and more aware of the bad impact of a meat-based diet. Young people in major Chinese cities are reducing the amount of meat eaten weekly. Studies show, that people consuming non-vegetarian food are more likely to have high blood pressure and obesity issues. This has encouraged even more competition between vegan eateries.
China is facing a big problem with children’s obesity. According to the World Health Organization nowadays one in three children has diabetes in China. Therefore, parents educated on the subject are starting to introduce more fruit and vegetables into their kids’ diet. Meat tends to be replaced by many vegetables and other plant ingredients that you can find in traditional Chinese cuisines such as tofu and seaweeds.
A lot of people believe in Buddhism or implement some parts of Buddhism doctrines in their daily life. One of the main aspects of Buddhism that is commonly adopted by Chinese people is its diet. The plant-based diet is an important part of Buddhism doctrine, as it’s going along with taking care of your body and feeling compassion for all living things.
The long history of Buddhism and its diet is well-known to Chinese people, that understand what veganism is and associate it with a healthy lifestyle. Being vegan or vegetarian is very often associated with Buddhism in China and it goes along with being healthy. It’s not a surprise that even ‘budda bowls‘ – typical vegetarian or vegan dishes from this culture became popular around the world in recent years and are associated with healthy meals.
Animal welfare and ethical reasons
China is still one of the few developed countries that don’t have laws regarding animal cruelty (for example; cosmetics are still required to be tested on animals in China). But animal rights activism got to China as well and people fighting for animal rights are one of the most active interest groups in the country. As people all over the world are becoming more aware of the world’s meat production standards and how the meat market treats animals, more and more people decide to turn to meat alternatives and plant-based diets for ethical reasons.
China is also known for the dog meat festival which arouses worldwide attention every year, as it’s described to be a very cruel event, horrifying all animal rights activists in China and abroad.
As the world is standing in front of a serious climate change problem, people begin to realise many problems associated with global meat production. The vegan movement is highlighting the big impact of the meat industry on carbon emissions. Additionally, apart from being concerned about the obesity problem among Chinese childer, the Chinese government announced a plan to reduce meat consumption also due to the problem of animal agriculture and its bad impact on the environment.
Concerns about food safety issues in China
After a lot of food scandals with meat being the centre of a majority of them, non-vegans are becoming more concerned about the quality of food they are buying. Chinese shoppers are turning into healthier product choices and a plant-based meat industry, as they don’t trust food safety. The covid-19 outbreak on one of the famous wet markets in China was also another nail in the coffin that makes people afraid to eat meat in China.
Vegan food and plant-based meat are a new worldwide trend!
Apart from all the reasons mentioned above, vegan food is simply one of the biggest trends worldwide. New vegan restaurants are popping around and Chinese major cities are not an exception. A large number of entrepreneurs try to maintain the Vegan Movement in Chinese people’s habits. Businessmen and women show significant interest to be successful in this business because it becomes popular to eat healthy which often means a meatless, organic, and environmentally-friendly diet.
As a consequence of this trend, there are celebrity-powered campaigns such as WildAid’s Shushi and vegetarian media platforms such as Veg Planet are generating social media buzz of plant-based living as a status symbol. Consumers are open to paying higher prices to have more innovative and healthier products.
Plant-based meat market grows rapidly and Beyond Meat’s introduction in China was one of the most discussed topics in recent years. Young Chinese consumers are following trends on social media platforms and are more interested in a healthy lifestyle and plant-based options.
Is there a place for vegan chicken nuggets on the Chinese market? – selling vegan products in China
Although the interest in plant-based products in China is rising, the demand is not affecting all regions. 34.4% of the whole country are rural areas and it will be hard to introduce a vegan diet there. The trend for a vegan diet in China is comparable to the rest of the world, and the majority of people turning vegan can be found in tier-one cities in China, like Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou or Hong Kong.
We present a few key areas to take into consideration when entering the Chinese plant-based market;
Take care of your image and make people want to taste your products
Branding is key to success in China and as nowadays everything happens online, you need to take care of your e-reputation. Chinese website with relevant search engine optimization is a must, and so are the accounts on social media. When it comes to veganism, you need to be trendy to speak to young generations. People will buy your products or go to your restaurant not only because they will know vegan food is good for health, but also because it’s trendy or someone recommended it to them.
Market your brand on social media
Chinese social media platforms are the key to building brand awareness and trust among Chinese consumers. Social media are especially important when it comes to catering to young generations, as they check everything that interests them online. They look for reviews, they check the opinions of their favourite influencers, and they recommend products and services to other people themselves.
If you want to be trendy and know what are hot topics in China, having accounts on the main social media like WeChat, Weibo, Douyin or Little Red Book is something you cannot omit. We can help you in the process of creating an account and also in the selection of the type of account. It implies a good analysis of the market before and an efficient study of your target.
Offer good deals and delivery to attract people
An effective promotional strategy can be the result of offering discounts through food apps and social media. Chinese culture is used to flash sales and special offers, so it’s an important marketing tool for any company doing business in this competitive market.
Another thing to take care of is home delivery. Delivery is an important part of life in China and is far more developed than what we are used to in the West. If you want to attract more and more vegans to try your products or eat your food, you need to provide a delivery service.
Find the right distributors
If you’re interested in selling imported goods in China, especially when it comes to food, finding the right distributors will be something that you need to consider. It’s not an easy task, but we can help you research online and offline distributors and distribution channels in China and make sure you will select the ones that will be suitable for your brand.
You have a lot of options to choose from, like relying on supermarket and market distribution, working with brands (like Beyond Meat with Starbucks or Burger King or Oatly soy milk) or selling directly through cross-border e-commerce platforms.
As plant-based meats and other vegan products are relatively new on the Chinese market, educating people is a great marketing strategy. You can Chinese audience what are the benefits of a vegan diet, how to cook vegan food and so on. This way people will share your content and engage with it, enlarging your followers count on social media.
This strategy will also work well in other Chinese cities, as people there may not be as familiar with all vegan hot topics as people in Shanghai or Hong Kong are.
Is China a vegan-friendly country?
When it comes to China’s biggest cities, finding vegan options and plant-based meat won’t be a problem, as they are available in supermarkets in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Beijing and so on. There are also a lot of only-vegan restaurants or eateries, others usually offer vegan options.
It’s also important to mention that it’s not hard to eat vegan even if you want to base your diet on traditional Chinese cuisine. Tofu, soy milk, sweet potato, corn, fermented veggies and other plant-based products have been seated in China long before they became popular in the West. A lot of traditional dishes don’t contain meat, and as Chinese people don’t eat cheese, it’s relatively easy to be a vegan in China.
But the situation is different when it comes to China’s rural areas and smaller cities. People are not familiar with a plant-based diet and they still consider meat and animal products as the most important parts of any meal. Per capita meat consumption in those areas is still very high and it will be hard to change people’s beliefs there. So we can only hope that the government’s initiatives might help with the overall situation of meat consumption in China.
Learn from Chinese vegan brands
A plant-based diet and meat imitations are nothing new to the Chinese people, as Chinese cuisine is full of non-meat meals and dishes that were imitating meat for religious purposes. This is one of the reasons why tofu is widely used in the West as a substitute for meat and gained popularity among vegetarians and vegans. Chinese people were using tofu for this purpose for centuries.
There are many plant-based companies in China, that are not known in the West, because they offer traditional Chinese meals instead of vegan chicken nuggets or cauliflower steaks. One of those companies is a Shenzhen company set up in 1993 – Whole Perfect Food. Their annual sales are reaching almost US$45 million and they plan to start selling their products globally.
When it comes to imitations of meat, with the introduction of Beyond Meat in China, new companies started to pop up in the main Chinese cities. One of these companies is Shanghais’ Hero Protein, a company offering vegan beef and other plant-based meat imitations to Chinese consumers. Today they are also introducing plant-based fish imitations.
Other companies, such as Zhenmeat are experimenting with vegan offerings of traditional Chinese stir-fries and dumplings. Other examples of plant-based Chinese companies include LiveKindly Collective, Z-Rou, Qishan Food or Plant Professor.
Local vegan initiatives for a better future
As veganism is becoming a new hot thing in China, there are more and more local initiatives from vegan organizations happening in major Chinese cities, to attract attention and interest to people in this topic. These campaigns are also a great help to companies selling vegan products.
One such campaign is the Green Monday initiative introduced by the Green Monday campaign group which helps bring awareness and educates people about the benefits of turning to the vegan diet.
Additionally, all the giants on the food market, like Starbucks, KFC, Mcdonald’s and Dico, the third-largest fast-food company in China, are widening their selection of vegan options in restaurants, introducing vegan chicken nuggets or Beyond Meat in burgers (like Burger Kings’ Impossible Whopper). The introduction of Beyond Meat was a great success in China, as everyone was interested in trying it and as a consequence, it’s available in a lot of restaurants in main Chinese cities.
Need help with China market entry? Contact us!
If you’d like to start selling plant-based products in China or are willing to open a vegan restaurant, contact us! We are a China marketing agency with both Chinese and foreign professionals that have expertise in introducing many foreign companies from different sectors in China. We can help you with your entry and marketing strategy, we can find the right distributors for your brand, advise you on all food fares happening in China and so on.
And many more! Leave us a comment or contact us to discuss your project in China.