Demand for plant-based protein meals is growing in Asia, suppliers say, as suspicion over possible connections between wild animal meat and the novel coronavirus drives some shoppers, particularly in Hong Kong and mainland China, to mold diets.
Although still a tiny enterprise compared to Asia’s big meat supply network, vegetarian options to meat, dairy, and seafood are gaining traction from people like Hong Kong-based health trainer Mike Lee.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, consultancy Euromonitor in 2019 predicted China’s free from the meat market, including plant-based merchandise meant to replace meat, could be worth nearly $12 billion by 2023, up from just under $10 billion a year earlier.
That had already attracted interest from leading U.S. gamers like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, with coffee network Starbucks and Yum China’s KFC fast-food chain declaring plans this week to promote plant-based products.
Amid restaurant closures, social distancing directives, and growing numbers of people cooking more at home, online meals purchases have surged in many markets in Asia. Vendors say plant-based items, mostly priced competitively compared with animal products, have proved no exception.
Many parts of Asia have long used non-meat ingredients like tofu to supply meat-like food experiences.
China remains the world’s greatest consumer of meat, with a retail value equal to around $170 billion yearly, according to Euromonitor. On that scale, the meat will dwarf alternative products for future years.