Is Alternative Meat the Recipe for a Healthier Planet? | Tao Zhang | TED
The TED Talk “Is Alternative Meat the Recipe for a Healthier Planet?” by Tao Zhang explores the impact of new proteins on China’s vast population and its potential to revolutionize the country’s food industry. Zhang, an impact investor, shares his insights on how alternative proteins, including plant-based, microbial, and cell-based options, could help address China’s significant impact on global meat and seafood consumption. With China accounting for a large portion of the world’s meat and seafood consumption, it is essential to consider the environmental and climate implications of such high demand.
Zhang acknowledges the challenges of introducing new proteins to Chinese consumers, who have a strong cultural and historical association with meat as an integral part of their cuisine. He emphasizes the need for alternative proteins to be not only environmentally friendly but also affordable, regionally appropriate, and appealing to the diverse tastes of Chinese consumers. Furthermore, Zhang highlights the importance of investment and innovation in research, development, and distribution channels to drive the adoption of new proteins.
The speaker also presents examples of successful businesses and entrepreneurs in China’s new protein sector, demonstrating the potential for widespread consumer acceptance. Zhang encourages investors, entrepreneurs, and consumers to embrace new proteins as a way to contribute to a healthier planet, and he advocates for greater international investment and support in China’s new protein market.
Overall, “Is Alternative Meat the Recipe for a Healthier Planet?” provides a thought-provoking look at the potential impact of alternative proteins in China and underscores the importance of investing in sustainable and environmentally friendly food solutions for a healthier planet.
Watch the video by TED
My wife is the last person in the world who would consider me a foodie type of person. She is always puzzled at why, sometimes, I couldn’t even tell the difference between beef and pork when shopping or eating. So a few years ago,
When I told her that I found my calling in food, as an impact investor, she was shocked, and thought I had a midlife crisis. But the impact logic behind my midlife crisis, or midlife epiphany, is simple. Given its size and reach, there’s no way the world can achieve its climate goals without engaging China in a significant way. This is why I’ve spent much of my career focused on supporting environmental entrepreneurs in China,
Mainly in the industrial space, things like energy or recycling. But I’ve always wondered about how to reach the vast number of Chinese consumers. I found my answer in alternative proteins, or what we prefer to call new proteins nowadays in China. New proteins can be plant-based, microbial, or cell-based alternatives to resource-intensive,
Environmentally challenging animal proteins. Let’s look at some numbers quickly. China consumes 26 percent of the world’s meat and 45 percent of the world’s seafood. It’s also worth mentioning that China accounts for 43 percent of the world’s pork consumption, in the meat category. This number is massive.
But if you look per person, meat consumption in China is still low, about half, compared to the US. For milk, consumption per person is less than half, in comparison. And driven by rising incomes and demand, these figures can only go up. Meantime, global investments in innovative foods, with new proteins as the majority,
Were over 10 billion dollars, from 2020 to 2022. But China had only 3.5 percent of the total, at 362 million dollars. I realized that investing in new proteins should be China’s answer. Chinese consumers can be a part of the country’s environmental solution, and by extension,
Part of the global solution to tackle climate change. Without a doubt, it is a huge business opportunity in the long run as well. But how exactly do we get people in China to embrace new proteins, as has happened in other parts of the world? Growing up in China,
I always see food as an integral part of my culture. On all occasions, big or small, there’s some banquet. Like when babies are born, loved ones pass away, friends getting together to bid farewell to one another. And we always need the so-called hard dishes, ying cai, as a core part of these occasions,
Meaning dishes with abundance and varieties of meat. Chinese people don’t just enjoy eating. Eating defines who we are and where we stand in society. As the Chinese saying goes, wu rou bu huan, meaning that there’s no pleasure in eating without meat. Meanwhile, China has a long history with plant-based foods,
Which sounds positive for new proteins, but is actually a challenge. Old-generation mock-meat products especially have had a negative perception with mainstream consumers. They are seen as cheap, distasteful, unhealthy alternatives, and more intended to serve religiously vegan or vegetarian consumers. Environmental and animal-welfare advocacy groups have shifted consumer mindsets in the West,
And eating plant-based meat is considered morally positive. But in China, mainstream consumers aren’t easily swayed by the moral argument for now. Chinese consumers are also highly demanding regarding taste, price and convenience. China is incredibly diverse in terms of styles of cooking and food applications.
Basically, each province or region has a style of cooking. There’s Beijing cuisine, Shanghai cuisine, Hunan cuisine, Szechuan cuisine and Cantonese cuisine, to name a few. And unlike Chinese restaurants in the US, these regional cuisines are not just different in the name, they do taste different. To be successful and to have an impact, entrepreneurs can’t just come out with a product that swaps out neatly for meat product. Alternative products will need to be tasty, affordable and regionally appropriate. This calls for investments in innovation, research and development. Moreover, we need new distribution channels, beyond specialty stores and vegetarian restaurants,
And they must be widespread, nationwide, especially in China, where online selling plays an increasingly dominant role. And with the young generation mainstream consumers, it certainly helps to engage high-end chefs to put new proteins on their menus. And these new products need personality: brands that seem hip and compelling to younger consumers.
New proteins must also enter the consumer consciousness on a wholesale level, meaning the entire industry needs good marketing campaigns. Entrepreneurs need to support one another and all relevant stakeholders to gain momentum. All of this requires investment and patience, of course. The good news is that we’re starting to see some progress.
For example, look at the alternative dairy company, Oatly. The Oatly Tea Master, an oat-based drink developed in China, replacing cow’s milk for milk tea, was introduced to the Chinese market in March 2022. By the end of 2022, the product had entered over 50,000 tea stores around China, with 20 million units sold.
Oatly’s initial success in China has resulted from its localized product and marketing strategy, investment in local production and distribution-channel expansion in collaboration with local partners. Meanwhile, mainstream Chinese consumers have been drinking all flavors of plant-based milk because of the past lack of cow milk products. I believe plant-based drinks are low-hanging fruit
For introducing new proteins and having impact in China more quickly and in a more capital-efficient way. Dao Foods, the investment firm I cofounded, has invested in about 20 new protein companies in China and for China. Products from Starfield, Xing Qi Ling, such as their plant-based tuna, beef and chicken,
Are showing up at restaurant chains and store shelves across China. Its clients include Sam’s Club, KFC, FamilyMart and China’s equivalent of Starbucks, Luckin Coffee, to name a few. Plant Now!, Zhi Wu Jia Dao, a plant-based milk tea venture, has recently entered more than 500 local convenience stores in Qingdao,
A new tier-one city on China’s east coast, and is ready to enter another 1,000 stores in China’s Anhui province with their coconut milk tea product. These young generation entrepreneurs are trying to develop products that appeal to mainstream consumers in every way. Equally important, they are helping overcome the negative perception of plant-based products
With a new look and feel and working with the right distribution partners. Aside from entrepreneurial efforts, the new protein sector in China is also gaining momentum on a few other fronts. Over the past few years, we’ve hosted eight boot camps across China, bringing together and inspiring hundreds of entrepreneurs
Who spend time learning from their peers and figuring out how to better their technology, improve marketing, expand distribution and raise more money. Chinese President Xi Jinping made some food-related remarks last year, encouraging the seeking of new proteins from plants and microbes. Local government is getting involved as well.
One municipal government in China’s Yangtze Delta region agreed to jointly develop a new protein entrepreneurship program with us, offering office space, potential funding and more. I would love to see mainstream Chinese consumers massively adopt new proteins, making them a part of their daily diet.
I don’t expect consumers to give up on animal products entirely, but having more protein diversification and choices will allow them to weigh factors like the environment and climate impact, to make more balanced and informed food decisions. Given China’s rising demand for quality proteins and the climate ramifications,
Climate-friendly investors worldwide should be all over new proteins in China. But they are not. Many international investors continue to shy away from China. Maybe geopolitics is the problem. Perhaps they aren’t sure if they will be able to get their money out of China if they need to.
Or it could be the flawed assumption that China’s problems are so unique that it requires solutions led by Chinese people alone. But whether you’re an investor, and entrepreneur or a consumer, if you want to be a hero and game-changer in this space, show me the money! Even if it’s just one meal at a time, one product at a time or one investment at a time. China is indispensable in addressing global climate changes, and we should work collectively to make China part of the global solution. Let’s all strive beyond, do the impossible, always look at the upside
And keep exploring the way, AKA the “dao,” to get there. For the one and only planet we share and call home, we must do it, we can do it, and we will. Thanks, everybody.
The TED Talks channel features the best talks and performances from the TED Conference, where the world’s leading thinkers and doers give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes (or less). Look for talks on Technology, Entertainment and Design — plus science, business, global issues, the arts and more. You’re welcome to link to or embed these videos, forward them to others and share these ideas with people you know.
Video “Is Alternative Meat the Recipe for a Healthier Planet? | Tao Zhang | TED” was uploaded on 01/10/2024 to Youtube Channel TED