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Impossible Foods’ plant-based pork puts it a step closer to China

Chase Purdy
burger king crowns

Impossible Foods is expanding the vegan footprint on Burger King menu boards. The California-based startup today announced it would supply plant-based pork sausages for new sandwiches geared at the breakfast crowd.

Placing the plant-based pork in fast-food restaurants will give US consumers who are already familiar with Impossible Foods’ current plant-based beef offerings something new to try. But more importantly, perhaps, it will create a massive testing ground before the company goes after markets in China.

Every company looking to make sustainable meat alternatives, whether plant-based or cell-cultured, is eying China’s 1.3 billion potential consumers. For those making pork substitutes, the allure is obvious: Pork is China’s meat of choice, making up some 75% of its overall meat consumption. It’s so popular that in 2007, the country created a strategic pork reserve, though just how much pork has been stockpiled remains a mystery.

Chicken is China’s second-most-consumed animal protein. That’s good news for Impossible Foods’ chief rival, Beyond Meat, which recently suggested it would soon be expanding into plant-based poultry.

Still, as The New York Times (paywall) pointed out, it would be foolish to think of China as an analogous market to the US. What works on one side of the world won’t necessarily find success on the other. In the US, popular beef, pork, and chicken dishes are often fried. In China, by contrast, meat dumplings are often steamed and many people prefer to eat meat right off the bone, not in patties, nuggets, and sausages.

Those cultural differences will be some of the toughest challenges for a US-based company to overcome, especially when home-grown Chinese startups, such as Zhenmeat, are already experimenting with 3D printing to create bones for their meat.

But before any US-based startup can toy with the idea of going into such a challenging, massive marketplace, it needs to do its due diligence. That includes making sure consumers respond positively to new products and that it can balance its supply against the growing demand for animal meat alternatives.

Impossible Foods is serving up taste tests of its new pork product this week at the Consumer Electronics Show. Starting in late January, it will begin a roll-out of the breakfast sandwich at 139 Burger King locations across the US. Those will initially be in Montgomery, Alabama; Savannah, Georgia; Lansing, Michigan; Springfield, Illinois; and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

 

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