Health has come to the foreground in 2020. As the population develops in China, there has been an agenda of improving sedentary lifestyles and pork-based diets for a few years – after all, a healthy country is a productive country. The State Council introduced the Healthy China 2030 initiative in 2018, aiming to engage 700 million people in physical activities at least once a week. Over 30,000 new hospitals were built both in 2017 and 2018, with an increase in private hospitals by over 11% from 2019-2023. This has of course only accelerated this year, but the wheels were well in motion.
China’s vegan market is expected to grow over 17 percent this year, particularly in Hong Kong where the number of vegetarian and vegan restaurants has more than doubled in the last two years. Chinese government guidelines are encouraging the nation’s 1.38 billion people to reduce their meat consumption by 50 percent by 2030. China is already the world’s largest importer of organic food products, while in the region, two thirds of Asian consumers believe in superfoods for treating ailments, as shown in the ‘Mindstyle’ Wellness report by Reuter Intelligence and ILTM.
With all things sustainable and healthy continuing to grow in popularity and meaning in 2020, there’s been a recent plant-based boom in China. Authorities also see this as desirable and sustainable, after swine fever reduced pig stocks by half in 2018 and China deals with a global pork shortage due to virus restrictions on factories across the world.
Element Fresh and Wagas have long been the recognised havens of international health-food, as the first chains to bring in salads, soups, smoothies and accessible vegetarian dining into Chinese cities over 15 years ago. It’s taken some time, but with conscious consumers, immune-boosting-interest and the fitness industry ever-strengthening, big names are also shifting to a plant base. In April, Starbucks launched a plant-based lunch menu that features products from Beyond Meat and Omnipork, while KFC partnered with agribusiness giant Cargill and launched “limited edition” plant-based nuggets. On RED (Xiaohongshu), the hashtag that translates as ‘meat free food can taste very good’ has 16.76 million views, with ‘plant-based diet’ over 12 million views and ‘vegetarian health’ over 99 million views on Weibo.
Jiaqi Luo, China essayist and commentator told The Luxury Conversation that “consumers, especially those who live in top-tier cities, now see healthy eating as the new show-off opportunity. Posts about pretty, balanced veggie meals are surging in platforms like RED. Many influencers are framing the veggie menu and lifestyle as a form of positive self-discipline, and a sign of paying attention to their body and skin.”
So what can luxury, or high-end dining take from FMCG looking to move away from meat? Firstly, it must be noted that rules of western demographics and consumer-bases do not apply in China. With high disposable incomes and a will to spend on luxury, anything can happen in China, from McDonald’s fashion cross-overs to Chanel and gaming.
The Luxury Conversation spoke to Rachel Gouk, Food & Beverage Consultant based in Shanghai and Founder of Nomfluence, about what she’s seeing on the ground, or rather on the table.
“Demand is still lower than in the West at present, yet it’s certainly a growing segment and one that businesses must pay attention to. Restaurants like Maya (temporarily closed due to COVID-19) have a popular plant-based – vegan – menu. This menu didn’t come about because the operators wanted it – it was suggested by vegan and vegetarian diners. The menu is available daily, supported by regular plant-based diners.
“Another restaurant, M on the Bund – the first western restaurant on the Bund – has a different approach. They do a vegan brunch every first Sunday of the month. It is a feasible approach from a business standpoint, and by drawing focus to one specific day a month, it also builds awareness. M’s menu is arguably very eye-catching and unlike their usual, more refined style – it’s brighter with more colours and of course with drawings of vegetables. Even if your restaurant is in survival mode and not ready to increase the entire plant-based offering, the focus on healthy living is understandably intense worldwide and healthier diets are top of mind for affluent Chinese consumers.”