Zhen Meat, also known as Zhen Rou (珍肉), is bringing meat substitutes to China. Over 3,000 orders were placed for the company’s plant-based mooncakes, which used wheat powder and pea protein in place of pork, to celebrate the national Mid-Autumn Festival last month.
The company has already raised five million yuan (about $700,000) in funding. Unlike international plant-based meat producers, Zhen Meat will only target Chinese cuisine—giving it an advantage over fake meat companies that plan to expand to China. Plant-based sausage and steak, mooncakes and meatballs are already for sale, and the startup plans to increase its offerings in the future.
“Our products will be sold online and offered in various Chinese restaurants including dim sum, Sichuan and hotpot eateries,” said Zhen Meat CEO and founder Vince Lu (Lu Zhongming, 吕中茗), according to the South China Morning Post. “We have no plans to expand outside China.”
Plant-based meat is familiar to the Chinese. However, these items are targeted towards vegetarians and are not made for those who consume meat.
“The traditional vegetarian faux meat [served in Chinese Buddhist restaurants] has a heavy taste of beans,” Lu explained. “The taste, texture, colour and smell does not resemble that of real meat. The success of those American companies [like Impossible Foods] has inspired us to make plant-based meat that tastes like real meat.”
Zhen Meat uses natural flavour extracts and spices to imitate the taste of meat, and the products have more protein than the real thing. Nevertheless, the company acknowledges that it has a ways to go to match the taste and texture of real meat.
Given the beginnings of plant-based fake meat in China, and the high standards held by Chinese people regarding their food, Lu believes that it might be difficult to shift these dietary habits amongst meat eaters. However, he has personally experienced the benefits of plant-based meals and wants to offer a healthier, sustainable alternative to the country’s beloved meat-based dishes.
While studying at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Lu gained 20 kilograms (44 pounds) in a semester and realised that he needed to change his eating habits. However, it wasn’t until he got into a near-death car accident that he wanted to turn his life around and make an impact on the world.
“It was the worst accident I have ever experienced,” he recalled. “I was rescued with no injuries, but was told I had cheated death. Since then, I have been filled with gratitude. I want to value life and give back to society.”
He got back into shape and improved his diet. After graduating with a degree in materials science, he founded Fuchouzhe, a startup that made protein bars to improve nutrition and sports performance. His company’s success pushed him to go further, with a goal to create the Chinese version of Impossible Foods through Zhen Meat.