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To fight climate change, Asia’s staple protein needs an alternative: Inside China’s Startups

Green Monday wants to promote sustainability by infusing plant-based pork products into Asian cuisines.

“From an environmental standpoint eating meat is a luxury,” says David Yeung, the founder, and CEO of Hong Kong-based Green Monday Group, which produces Omnipork – a plant-based pork alternative.

Meat consumption is one of the most significant contributors to climate change. Efforts to curb greenhouse-gas emissions and the impacts of global warming will fall significantly short without drastic changes in global land use, agriculture, and human diets, the United Nations warns.

While Yeung has been a vegetarian for almost 20 years, he never expected this lifestyle choice to become a career. “At that time, it was just out of compassion. It didn’t feel right to consume animals,” he told KrASIA.

In 2012, he founded Green Monday, a social venture group that aims to tackle climate change, global food insecurity, public health, and animal welfare issues.

Business for social value

“I don’t see Green Monday as my company; this is a social and global mission. We have something vital to tackle and address: climate change and sustainability. And sustainability can only be realized with more companies bringing innovation,” Yeung said.

David Yeung, founder, and CEO of Green Monday group who owns Omnipork. Photo by courtesy of Green Monday.

Yeung admits that his father, Tony Yeung, played an essential role in creating his own “mission-driven” venture. “While my father was successful in real estate development and the apparel industry, he was extremely active in philanthropy. He used a creative and innovative mindset to create social good, and this inspired me very much,” Yeung proudly explained.

He says his main objective with Green Monday is to shift people away from meat and empower them to embrace more of a plant-based diet. “We don’t need everyone to become vegan, and not everyone can become a full-time vegan. But as the name Green Monday says, we want everyone to go green a few times a week. Everyone can easily become a flexitarian,” he further explains.

Despite sustainability concerns, global meat consumption is projected to continue rising, with Asia, and China in particular. accounting for a large portion of that growth, according to the OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2020-2029. The report highlights Asia’s rising incomes, growing population, and increasing urbanization as main contributors to the growth in livestock production and meat consumption, particularly poultry and pork.

Pork alternatives for Asian markets

Omnipork, the company’s flagship alternative protein was launched in 2018, with a straightforward goal: to give people a variety of plant-based protein alternatives. Yeung says distributing western-style plant-based meat products is insufficient, instead favoring pork alternatives to replace Asian cuisines’ main protein.

The company’s signature product is plant-based minced pork made out of Shiitake mushroom, pea, non-GMO soy, and rice. “In the beginning, we were bringing BeyondMeat, Califia Farms’ products, and others. These are all emerging brands from the West. But, in Asia and we clearly need something more Asian, more oriental. In Asia, the most consumed meat by far is pork,” he underlined.

Omnipork signature product: plant-based minced pork. Photo by courtesy of Green Monday.

Yeung decided to develop Omnipork with a relatively neutral flavor to optimize versatility, so it can be used to make everything from dumplings to fried rice. “We are unique in the sense that we are trying to build all the applications that pork dishes perform. Many home or professional chefs can use it for a variety of Asian cooking. It is a perfect fit,” Yeung said.

But plant-based minced-pork is not the only product company makes. It has recently launched Omnipork Strip and Omnipork luncheon. Furthermore, it has also launched a ready-to-eat meal platform called “Omnieat.” Yeung told KrASIA that Omnieat will have around ten products, such as dumplings, dim sum, and fried rice.

Cantonese fried noddles with Omnipork strips – Omnipork recently launched plant-based pork strips. Source: Omnipork.

Omnipork is sold in nearly 40,000 retail and foodservice locations in six countries, including the Philippines, China, Thailand, and Singapore. “We will be available in Indonesia at the end of this year, and we are entering Japan this month,” Yeung saidGreen Monday also launched alternative meat products in the United Arab Emirates. But, there, the company launched “Omnimeat” with beef flavor. “We are working with one of the biggest chains in the UAE, called The Coffee Club. They already launched dishes with Omnimeat,” told KrAsia.

Moreover, the company will be listing its products in supermarkets soon, including 7fresh in China.

Surprisingly, in Hong Kong, Omnipork is cheaper than real pork by between 10% and 20% according to Yeung. Furthermore, Omnipork is expanding the production capacities and creating better economies of scale, he adds.

Currently, the company produces its products in Thailand but has plans to expand its production to mainland China. “In China, in terms of price, we are not as competitive as in Hong Kong, but with the increasing economies of scale, we will have a lot of improvements in terms of price,” Yeung explained. “The ultimate goal is to eliminate the economic barrier so that people can access plant-based protein alternatives at lower prices.”

Allies in competition

Given Asia’s growing propensity for meat consumption, many players in the plant-based meat industry aim to expand in the region including Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat, and some local startups.

But Yeung says the competition is not between the plant-based alternative meat producers. “The actual competition is between the real meat and dairy producers and the alternative meat producers. When someone tries plant-based meat produced from a certain company, they become willing to try more alternative meat products from other companies.”

He says the biggest challenge is converting people’s mindsets and reshaping eating culture. “These are the things that won’t happen overnight, and will require education to boost awareness of why we need to reduce meat consumption, and the social and environmental risks come with the meat industry.”

Other plant-based meat producers are also targetting Asian markets, like Beyond Meat who entered China in April 2020. Source: Beyond Meat

He recalls how seven years ago, Hong Kong was a very difficult city to find vegan food, and how life was miserable for him when he turned vegetarian. “But now a major awareness has arisen in the last 2 to 3 years in Hong Kong society. People realized the importance of reducing meat consumption.”

Yeung is very optimistic about the future. “Overall plant-based meat will play a huge role in terms of shaping the future of eating culture. Eating meat is going to become a luxury. As producing meat consumes a lot of resources, it’s unsustainable, and the price is worsening climate change.”

He predicts that the alternative meat industry will have substantial growth and plant-based meat alternatives will contain a significant portion of people’s diet. “Again, I am not saying people will become vegan, but I think the ratio of plant-based food will increase more and more in our daily life.”

This article is part of KrASIA’s “Inside China’s Startups” series, where the writers of KrASIA speak with founders of tech companies in the country.