Plant-based meat is now available at Starbucks in Shanghai.
Plant-based meat is now available at Starbucks in Shanghai.
Photo: Costfoto/Barcroft Media (Getty Images)

While the U.S. debates the merits of gradually reopening certain sectors of business, the American artificial meat company Beyond Meat has begun to make inroads in China, where things have more or less already normalized.

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According to the BBC, Beyond Meat’s plant-based proteins are now on sale at thousands of Starbucks across China, making it one of the first big rollouts of fake meat that the country has seen. Simultaneously, Chinese KFC outlets have also begun trialing chicken nuggets made with fake chicken.

If Beyond Meat can find a market in China it would represent a huge change in how a significant portion of the world consumes meat. China is the world’s largest pork producer and one of the leading pork consumers, and it was only two years ago that a major African swine flu outbreak resulted in more than half the country’s pigs being slaughtered. It wasn’t just a shocking financial loss, it was also a major blow to the world’s food supply.

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While it’s true that China consumes far less meat per capita than the U.S. (53 kilograms per person versus 100.79 kilograms per person), meat is still a significant part of many people’s diets. In metropolitan areas, chain restaurants are booming as western brands try to establish themselves in Chinese people’s lives. If Beyond Meat is able to find fans in China it will mean gaining access to a pool of customers far larger than they can find in the United States.

Of course, as we’ve written about before, whether they’re actually able to do that remains to be seen. Government regulations, difficulties with labeling and ingredient tracing, and a cultural preference for cuts of meat that Beyond Meat simply cannot replicate (such as meat cooked and served on the bone) are all major hurdles. If Beyond Meat can gain a toehold in the Chinese fast food and fast casual market, though, it’s entirely possible that artificial meat consumption could become much more normalized for a significant portion of the world’s population.

Jacob Dean is a food and travel writer and psychologist based in New York. He likes beer, less traveled airports, and is allergic to grasshoppers (the insect, not the mixed drink.)

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