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Joshua Tetrick, CEO of vegan egg maker Just, says China’s food producers are viewing the current coronavirus situation as a time to introduce more quality-controlled food. Photo: Bloomberg

Vegan eggs could crack China market amid coronavirus outbreak as food companies seek animal-free protein sources

  • US-based Just, which makes plant-based egg products, is fielding a wave of inquiries from Chinese food companies amid the virus outbreak
  • China is viewed as a major growth market for producers of animal-free protein products, including Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat

A San Francisco-based start-up making imitation eggs from mung beans is fielding a wave of inquiries from some of China’s bigger food manufacturers.

Just, which makes plant-based egg products and is already selling in the country, has received questions from Chinese state-backed food companies seeking animal-free protein sources amid the coronavirus outbreak, chief executive officer Josh Tetrick says.

“Some of the biggest companies, larger food manufacturers, including some that are backed by the state government, are proactively reaching out … about now wanting to partner,” he says. China’s producers are viewing the current climate as a time for more quality-controlled food, he confirms.

While Tetrick declined to name the companies, he says that authorities are trying to think about how to reduce the risk of future outbreaks by curbing China’s reliance on meat from confined animals. The country’s wet markets, where freshly slaughtered, unpackaged meat is sold, have been identified as a possible source of the outbreak that has claimed more than 3,200 lives and disrupted businesses in its global spread.

Just Egg is made from mung beans.

Even before the outbreak, China was already experiencing protein shortages thanks to the spread of African swine fever (ASF) and its impact on pork supplies. The country is viewed as a major growth market for producers of animal-free protein products, including Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat.

A spokeswoman for Impossible Foods says the company had already started the approval process with China’s Food and Drug Administration for its products to enter the China market.

China’s plant-based meat makers look to take on the world

Impossible Foods’ plan to expand into China is unrelated to the virus outbreak, which is “the latest public health crisis due to use of animals in the food chain,” the spokeswoman says. Beyond Meat still hopes to enter production in Asia by the end of the year, chief executive Ethan Brown said last month, though its plans have been slowed by the virus’ spread.

David Yeung, founder of Green Monday, a Hong Kong-based maker of imitation pork products and seller of other plant-based foods, agrees with the view that the virus will drive consumers toward such products.

“The triple threat of coronavirus, ASF and avian flu fully expose the vulnerability of the protein/food supply chain,” Yeung says. “From a consumer standpoint, demand for safe, reliable healthy food will absolutely skyrocket.”

For Just, Tetrick has long viewed China as a similar growth play and already sells its “eggs” in stores and online there.