Alternative Proteins are Shaping Future Food Trends in China

Alternative proteins have emerged as one of the key future food trends to watch these years. Since the global population is growing and expected to reach 10 billion by 2050, addressing how to produce enough protein to feed the world is critical to tackle the food supply challenges.

With the second-largest population in the world, safeguarding food security has long been a top priority for China. This web post will dive into China’s increasing interest in alternative proteins as a promising solution to national food security and some notable market opportunities in this field. 

China’s alternative protein field started in 2019, and the market landscape has gradually changed over the past few years. In the beginning, plant-based meat companies attracted a lot of attention from the media and investors. A wide range of plant-based meat products, including varieties of categories such as minced and whole-cut products, prepared foods, and snacks, were introduced to both food service channels and retailers. However, the plant-based meat market has not taken off, as the majority of products failed to meet Chinese consumers’ expectations of value addition compared to conventional meat. Meanwhile, the fields of fermentation and cultivated meat have been developing right alongside the plant-based boom. Throughout the years, China has shown a growing appetite for these two technologies, which aligns with its long-term national strategies. 

China’s growing appetite for protein innovations

China is exploring alternative proteins as a way to diversify protein sources, including those harnessed from plants, microbes, and animal cells. This will ensure the nation bolsters food security further. With the release of the national ‘Five‐Year Plan’ for Bioeconomy Development, China will take steps to accelerate the development of a few selected industry sectors, including agriculture and food. This plan enables biomanufacturing, a new focus of the global tech rivalry, to become the engine that drives the future of China’s alternative proteins.

Currently, the cultivated meat and fermentation sectors are facing scaling obstacles and cost barriers before products reach consumers’ shelves. However, China shows great potential to develop into a global biomanufacturing hub empowering alternative protein production. Over the past decade, China's biomanufacturing industry has emerged and fostered a robust industrial foundation. More and more collaborations between alternative protein companies and China-based biomanufacturers have been formed to tackle scaling and cost challenges in recent years, such as CellX and Tofflon, Turtle Tree and JS Bio. We believe that 2024 holds promising opportunities in the alternative protein industry by harnessing the full potential of biomanufacturing.

Speaking of the consumer market, health is the most important driver in Chinese consumer food trends. Value-adding ingredients, including proteins and others produced by fermentation, are notably gaining awareness among consumers. Therefore, brands are eager to consider adding functional ingredients to broaden product appeal. Last October, Human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs), one of the most abundant solid ingredients in breast milk, was approved to use in infant formula in China. Both international players and local champions are in a race to launch products with HMO components, which provides a great example of how healthy and functional ingredients add value to existing products and contribute to increased uptake. So far, there is no fermentation-empowered alternative protein product launched in the Chinese market yet. As we have seen more and more fermentation-derived novel protein ingredients have been approved in China over the past two years, a variety of alternative protein products utilising these ingredients are expected to hit the market soon.

Enormous opportunities for international companies

There are enormous opportunities in the alternative protein fields for international companies who are eyeing the Chinese market. No matter what the business model, to B or to C, companies should focus on providing a solution instead of a product itself, to either solve existing problems or add additional value to end products. Besides the undeniable shift towards healthy ingredients in the Chinese market, natural formulations are also getting popular. Natural-sounding ingredients, “clean label”, generally referred to products with short ingredient lists, and no artificial flavours and colours, are driving a profound transformation in ingredient innovation in China’s food and beverage industry. International companies with such solutions could explore this direction while meeting the basic requirements of taste and costs. It’s also worth mentioning that sustainability and environmental concerns often do not rank high in the factors that influence Chinese consumers’ purchasing decisions, based on previous studies. 

Last but not least, we cannot overstate this: international companies need to conduct market research and gather sufficient data and information to develop a full-fledged local strategy before entering the China market. Those strategies should be designed to help businesses make better decisions in localising and developing product solutions that bring differentiated value to Chinese consumers. Collaborative partnerships that help leverage resources and build networks are also critical for successful market entry and expansion.


About GFIC

GFIC is a China-based impact consultancy firm focused on providing industry insights and R&D resources to support the alternative protein sector. As a strategic partner of the Good Food Institute (GFI), a leading think tank in the field, GFIC brings together international and local experts across disciplines and fields to support progress in commercialisation as well as R&D and regulatory pathways.


GFIC’s team of experts has extensive knowledge of the domestic industry and is eager to collaborate with international alternative protein companies that are introducing new products to the world’s largest and most sought-after market.


To get in touch: [email protected].