"Plant-based" foods, are they really delicious?
In April 2020, Starbucks collaborated with the well-known oat milk brand Oatly to launch the oat milk latte series of products. These quickly captured the love of many consumers. Subsequently, the market grew rapidly, with plant-based milk and the representation of plant-based foods riding the wave of new consumer trends, thanks to their great taste and health benefits.
The concept of plant-based foods originates from the plant-based diet, with its primary goal being to reduce harm to the environment and personal health while seeking "high-quality alternatives" to animal products. Under the influence of the plant-based diet trend, "plant-based foods" have emerged, specifically referring to new food or beverage products primarily made from plant materials (such as legumes, grains, algae, fungi, etc.) or their derivatives as sources of protein and fat.
According to the group standard "General Rules for Plant-Based Foods (Draft for Solicitation of Comments)" drafted by the China Food Science and Technology Society, plant-based foods can be divided into five categories: plant-based meat products (plant-based meat), plant-based dairy products (plant-based milk), plant-based egg products, plant-based frozen products and ingredients, and other plant-based foods.
As consumers become more concerned about health, sustainability, and business value, plant-based nutrition and products centered around "plant-based innovation" have become major trends, showing a growing trend. Global Data predicts that by 2025, the potential market for plant-based foods in the Asia-Pacific region will reach CNY 13 billion, with the Chinese market estimated to be worth CNY 8 billion. The compound annual growth rate in the Chinese market from 2020 to 2025 is expected to reach 171%.
Driven by China's "dual carbon" goals and the increasing awareness of consumer health and environmental protection, plant-based foods, as a sustainable category, are expected to receive more attention and recognition in the Chinese market, offering greater development opportunities and business potential. In this article, we will take a look at 10 brands worth paying attention to in the global plant-based food arena.
Founded in 2017, STARFIELD (Chinese: 星期零) is a Chinese plant-based protein food brand with independent research and production capabilities. In 2022, STARFIELD announced a $100 million Series B financing round led by Chunhua Capital, with participation from Professor Zeng Ming and existing shareholders including Joy Capital, Sequoia Capital, Lightspeed China, and Yunjiu Capital. They aim to create healthier and more delicious plant-based protein foods by extracting natural plants and using molecular sensory science technology. STARFIELD collaborates with over 100 brands, including Heytea, Nai Xue, Zhengda, and Tim Hortons, covering more than 5,500 stores nationwide, with over 300 developed plant-based protein food product solutions.
Established in 2020, Plantag (Chinese: 植物标签) has secured nearly 300 million RMB in financing, with Joy Capital as its main investor. They offer various plant-based milk products such as oat milk, black sesame milk, hazelnut milk, and pistachio milk, aiming to provide diverse plant-based nutrition to consumers. The core team includes graduates from top universities in China and overseas and has previous experience with multinational companies like Bain & Company and Unilever. Plantag promotes a healthy and eco-friendly lifestyle and envisions making the Earth healthier together.
Yili Zhexuan (Chinese: 伊利植选) is a premium plant-based brand developed by Yili Group over three years, founded in 2017. They introduced the concept of "plant milk" and aim to offer a healthier and more diverse range of plant-based nutrition options. The brand's name, Zhexuan, implies "selected plant nutrition," emphasizing high-quality plant-based nutrition for a vibrant life. They strive to become the leading plant-based protein brand in China.
Established in 2020, HEROTEIN (Chinese: 植物家) is the first company in China to use advanced wet extrusion protein technology. HEROTEIN focuses on creating delicious and affordable plant-based products, ensuring both food safety and sustainability. Their research team consists of experts who previously worked at leading plant-based meat brands in North America. HEROTEIN's plant-based meat is primarily made from soybeans, wheat, and peas and is non-GMO.
Founded in 2019 in Shanghai, Vitalbox (Chinese: 光合博士) was established by a team of Ph.D. and master's graduates in clinical nutrition science, functional nutrition science, and food engineering. They are committed to reducing carbon emissions and animal harm by producing 100% plant-based milk. Vitalbox's plant milk products aim to be delicious, with clean ingredients and rich in natural functional nutrients. Their goal is to promote a joyful, healthy, and environmentally friendly lifestyle.
Zhibai Shuo (Chinese: 植白说) is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Coca-Cola China, established in 2019. The brand focuses on the plant-based sector and offers integrated solutions from production and supply to sales. They have launched several brands, including "Culianwang," "Zengu Shuo 3x3," and "Yangguang Chuchu." Zhibai Shuo is currently undergoing strategic upgrades, with a focus on business growth, brand value enhancement, and sustainable development.
OATLY, founded in 1994, is a Swedish oat plant-based protein brand. Their oat milk products utilize patented enzyme technology to turn oats into a nutritious liquid food rich in dietary fiber, plant protein, unsaturated fats, and other nutrients, increasing satiety. Before 2016, OATLY held over 40% market share in the Swedish plant-based milk market. In 2018, OATLY introduced its classic oat milk products to the Chinese market. Instead of focusing on changing consumer habits at the consumer level, they chose to partner with premium coffee brands. Starting with oat lattes, OATLY's oat milk products began gaining traction among Chinese consumers. As of the end of 2018, OATLY had collaborated with over 1,000 coffee shops in China, with Ole and other supermarkets being the main retail channels. On April 20, 2023, OATLY filed its prospectus with the US SEC and plans to go public on NASDAQ under the stock symbol "TTLY." The prospectus indicates that OATLY intends to raise USD 100 million in funds through the sale of its American depositary shares, with the specific amount yet to be disclosed. According to publicly available sources, OATLY had an estimated valuation of around USD 2 billion during its funding round in July of the previous year, and in February of this year, Bloomberg reported that its valuation may have reached a staggering USD 10 billion.
Beyond Meat was founded in 2009 and is one of the fastest-growing food companies in the United States. They offer a revolutionary range of plant-based meat products made directly from plants. This innovation allows consumers to experience the taste, texture, and other sensory qualities of popular animal-based meat products while enjoying the nutritional benefits of plant-based meat. The brand's motto, "Eat What You Love," reflects their firm belief that consumers can enjoy more of the foods they love by consuming their plant-based meats. This approach contributes to addressing issues related to human health, climate change, resource conservation, and animal welfare. The company's performance data for the second quarter of 2023 shows total revenue of USD 102 million, lower than the average expectation of approximately US 112 million, with a year-over-year decline of as much as 30.5%. The company reported sluggishness in the US market and lowered its revenue outlook for 2023 from the previously announced USD 415 million to the range of US 360 million to USD 380 million.
JUST Egg was founded in 2011 by Josh Balk and Josh Tetrick and is one of the star startups in the plant-based protein field. Its investors include Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing, and others. In November 2017, the company announced the launch of plant-based egg products and subsequently entered distribution through various grocery stores and Whole Foods supermarket channels in North America. Over 100 restaurants also introduced collaborative dishes. In January 2018, JUST Egg plant-based eggs entered the Hong Kong market, becoming its first overseas market outside of North America. To date, JUST Egg has become a leader in the plant-based egg sector, with a high repeat purchase rate of 51% and distribution in over 48,000 retail outlets in North America. This distribution has collectively saved over 14 billion gallons of water, 69 million kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent, and 21,000 acres of land.
Impossible Foods was founded in 2011 and is headquartered in California. The brand aims to create "delicious, nutritious" meat and dairy products made from plants, with a significantly smaller environmental footprint compared to animal-based meats. To date, Impossible Foods has raised over USD 2 billion in total financing and is valued at USD 7 billion. Brand investors include Mirae Asset Global Investments, Khosla Ventures, Bill Gates, Google Ventures, Horizons Ventures, UBS, Viking Global Investors, Temasek, Sailing Capital, Coatue Management, and the Open Philanthropy Project. Impossible Foods' mission is to change the global food system, restore biodiversity, and reduce the impact of climate change. In 2022, Impossible Foods reported revenue growth of over 50% and continues to be the fastest-growing plant-based meat brand in U.S. retail stores.