THIS VEGETARIAN COMPANY WANTS TO DISRUPT CHINA'S PORK INDUSTRY
By Sherisse Pham
David Yeung wants to take a bite out of China's massive meat market.
When the founder of Green Common, a vegetarian grocery store and casual dining chain in Hong Kong, started bringing plant-based burgers and other meatless products to Asia, he saw an opportunity.
"One of the most consumed meats in the world is actually overlooked -- that is pork," Yeung told CNNMoney.
Yeung on Monday launched a new product called omnipork which he hopes will change people's diets in mainland China, the world's largest consumer of pork. Omnipork is made from soy, pea, mushroom and rice proteins, but it tries to mimic the taste and feel of real pork.
Yeung's company -- Right Treat -- is currently seeking approval from Chinese regulators and expects to start selling omnipork in mainland China before the end of the year.
In China, pork is a beloved meat: the Chinese character for family is a pig under a roof. Until recently, the country's growing ranks of middle class consumers had fueled a massive rise in pork consumption.
People in China will eat about 56 million tons of pork this year, more than any other country, according to US Department of Agriculture estimates.
But demand may be peaking. Last year, overall pork consumption in China hit a three-year low of 54.8 million tons.
The dip came after the Chinese government issued dietary guidelines in 2016, outlining a plan to cut meat consumption in half. An official campaign included commercials featuring actor and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzeneggar encouraging Chinese people to eat less meat to help the planet.
Yeung hopes to tap into China's changing diets, but it's still a lofty goal to convince people who grew up chowing down on pork dumplings and sweet-and-sour pork to choose meatless alternatives.
He compares his ambitions to what Starbucks has achieved in China.
"China has never been a coffee drinking country. For the last 5,000 years, Chinese people drink tea," he said. "But what Starbucks has done is they create a lifestyle, and it is aspirational, it's about much more than what is inside the cup, it is everything around it."
Yeung is joining other startups that are looking to shake up the global meat industry. They include Beyond Meat, which is bankrolled by actor Leonardo di Caprio, Microsoft (MSFT) founder Bill Gates and agricultural giant Tyson Foods.
Yeung is also an investor in Beyond Meat and brought its meatless burger and other products to Hong Kong. He said his company saw sales of Beyond Meat grow fourfold in one year, and there are plans to take it to mainland China by the end of the year.
Impossible Foods, a startup behind a meatless burger that bleeds, launched in Hong Kong last week, its first international market.
But Yeung says those startups' products generally appeal to Western palates. He made omnipork specifically for Asian dishes, enlisting a Michelin star chef -- Li Yuet Faat at Ming Court -- to tackle a few Chinese staples.
At first, Li said he wasn't sure what to do with omnipork. Eventually, he decided to try using it for xiaolong bao, steamed soup dumplings typically stuffed with pork. It took the chef and his team several tries before they finally made a version with omnipork that they were ready to serve.
This CNNMoney reporter and three colleagues did a blind test of omnipork soup dumplings alongside regular ones -- and everyone could taste the difference. But everyone also agreed that the omnipork soup dumplings were still tasty. Li will also roll out a sweet-and-sour pork dish using omnipork in June.
"You can use this ingredient many ways, steam it, cook it, fry it, pan fry it, stuff it in dumplings, meatballs," Yeung said. "This is something that we want to be really all purpose."