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A butcher cuts pork meat at a market in Beijing. China’s per capita pork consumption of 30kg last year was on par with South Korea. Photo: AFP

The world’s biggest pork eaters are developing a palate for beef and other substitutes

  • China’s pork consumption peaked in 2014 at 42.5 million tonnes
  • Chinese customers’ spending on healthy meals rose 158 per cent last year, according to data from online delivery provider Meituan Dianping

China’s pork consumption has probably peaked, as consumers are opting for a healthier and a more varied diet.

Some 41.4 million tonnes of pork was consumed by the nation’s 1.4 billion people last year, according to market research provider Euromonitor. Although slightly higher than 41 million tonnes in 2017, it was 4.7 per cent lower than the historical peak of 42.5 million tonnes in 2014.

On a per capita basis, last year’s consumption of 29.8kg was also 4.5 per cent lower than in 2014.

Darin Friedrichs, a Shanghai-based analyst at commodities brokerage INTL FCStone, said there was a myth that the Chinese meat consumption would keep rising as they got wealthier.

“We have sort of gone past that point, as last year’s consumption per person was basically at the same level as any other rich nation, so there isn’t much room for growth anyway.”

China’s per capita pork consumption last year was on par with South Korea’s 30kg, and higher than 23kg of the US, 22kg of Australia and 16kg in both Canada and Japan, data from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development showed.

China’s per capita consumption of 4.3kg of beef and 10.5kg of chicken is only around one-sixth and one-fifth that of the Americans. It has remained steady at these historically high levels in the past two to three years.

Domestically produced Chinese beef is on sale at a supermarket in Beijing. China’s per capita beef consumption of 4.3kg is only one-sixth that of the Americans. Photo: AP Photo

Anecdotal evidence suggests that Chinese consumers – especially in big cities – were showing a rising interest in healthier meals.


A recent “big data report” by China’s largest on-demand food delivery firm Meituan Dianping said its customers’ spending on “light meals” jumped 158 per cent last year from 2017, while the number of caterers that offer such dishes on its platform grew 128 per cent.

“Light” was defined as low in calories and fat and high in fibre. The top meat choice for “light” meals was chicken, followed by beef and pork.

Plant-based “meat” products companies have also been tapping this emerging consumer trend.

In April, the MeatFest exhibition in Shanghai attracted some big overseas and domestic players showcasing food made from protein extracted from soybeans or peas.

Meanwhile, Chicago-based start-up Sustainable Bioproducts said that it could provide a substitute protein to address the pork shortages in China.

It has a fermentation technology that can turn plant-based feedstock like starch into edible protein, a process that involves extremophile – an organism that thrives in extreme conditions. The company uses extremophile found in the Yellowstone National Park’s volcanic springs.

Pork price is likely to remain high in China as swine fever wipes out hog population – but that is music to WH Group’s ears

Andrew Chung, founder of 1955 Capital which led the company’s financing round in February that included an investment from US billionaire Bill Gates’ fund, said there is definitely a role for alternative protein in a market like China.


“Not only is there a massive supply gap owing to the ongoing African swine fever, but in a country [affected by] food safety concerns and scandals, there is clear demand for a clean, traceable source of protein in food production,” he said.

Additional reporting by Georgina Lee