A waiter with Nestlé plant-based sausages from the Harvest Gourmet line during the launch event in Beijing, China, December 9 2020. Picture: REUTERS/THOMAS PETER
A waiter with Nestlé plant-based sausages from the Harvest Gourmet line during the launch event in Beijing, China, December 9 2020. Picture: REUTERS/THOMAS PETER

Nestlé is jumping into the fake-meat business in China, seeking to revive weakening sales there by grabbing market share in the world’s biggest pork-consuming nation.

The Swiss company has introduced a range of plant-based meat alternatives in China under its Harvest Gourmet brand. Six options, including kung pao chicken and braised meatballs, will be available later this month on Alibaba Group Holding’s Tmall online platform and in its Hema supermarket chain in Beijing and Shanghai, before being rolled out more broadly.

The food maker has a factory in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin that will make products such as faux burger patties and pork mince for restaurants and other food service providers.

“The food sector is undergoing a quiet revolution as healthy, nutritious and environmentally friendly foods are gaining an increasingly large share of the market,” said Rashid Qureshi, CEO of Nestlé’s Greater China Region.

Nestlé is the latest company eager to tap the vast Chinese market, which accounts for 27% of the world’s meat consumption by volume. The country is emerging as the best opportunity for the likes of Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods  after the coronavirus pandemic wiped out restaurant sales in the US. If foreign companies can win over even a small fraction of China’s 1.4-billion people, the rewards could be huge.

Nestlé’s meat-alternative push in China comes as the company has seen business slip in its second-biggest market by revenue. Last month, the company agreed to sell the peanut milk and canned rice porridge businesses of Yinlu, which faced sluggish growth a few years after Nestlé bought it in 2011. Nestlé also saw its share of China’s infant formula market drop to 12.8% this year from 13% in 2019, according to Euromonitor International.

The Swiss food giant has been accelerating a global expansion in plant-based meat substitutes, rolling out products through its Garden Gourmet brand in Europe and Sweet Earth in the US. It reported double-digit growth in sales of vegetarian and plant-based products for the nine months to end-September.

While Nestlé already sells Harvest Gourmet meat alternatives in Australia and New Zealand, rivals have a head start in China.

Beyond Meat announced plans for a major production facility in China and has deals for its products to be sold in Starbucks, KFC and Pizza Hut outlets in the country. Impossible Foods, which is awaiting Chinese approval to start selling its fake meat made with heme, plans an aggressive launch and expects the nation could become its number one market within a few years.

Other makers also have a Chinese presence, including Oatly and Eat Just, a vegan egg company.

“Research has shown that the majority of consumers plan to increase their intake of plant-based food,” Qureshi said. “There is huge potential still set to be unlocked.”

Bloomberg

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