Can Impossible Foods Do More Than Ride a Green Wave?

The trends have been well-documented: Healthy lifestyle is a big thing in modern China, people care about the planet, and more and more are going onto a meat-free diet. The government is advocating all of this, which means that in the mainland it will become rote. So isn’t Impossible Foods entering China at just the right time, and aren’t they on an easy route to success? Just as those who’ve lived in China for many years say; “in China everything feels possible, but nothing feels easy.”

Indeed, the timing is ripe and the ‘branding plus product’ is high-quality. Yet of course, there’s challenges ahead for impossible burger – here are the ones which stand out.

The specific, direct vegetarian market is not huge

Many vegetarian restaurants don’t make a profit. If someone in Shanghai says ‘shall we go to a vegetarian restaurant this evening?’, the choices are as slim as meat-free people purport to be. Upscale there’s Fu He Fei and Wu Jie. Otherwise there’s Pure & Whole and… a few others. For a city of allegedly 20 million (if you count areas like Fengxian, Jinshan, Jiading etc as ‘Shanghai city’), the demand for of ‘a vegetarian restaurant’ just isn’t there.

The way to overcome this challenge is already in the hands of Impossible – they’re not saying that it’s ‘for vegetarians’ and, importantly, it’s not a ‘sit down a dine’ concept. Shake Shack boomed on the idea of (relatively) fast service, a simple product to enjoy quickly and fun branding. According to the China Plant Based Foods Alliance (CPBFA) recent report, more than 80 percent of consumers who ate plant-based meat were born after 1990. This demographic is up for being part of buzz and are renowned for caring about the sustainability of what they consume. The branding away from simply ‘vegetarian’ will be key.

Having a USP that Chinese companies don’t

It’s an advantage, but is it a double-edged sword? If they do ‘too well’, will their unique Heme product find import laws tightening? The competition is growing. What with recent issues over international companies getting in hot water for a number of faults from listing certain regions as countries instead, being generally offensive and so on, big brands are seeing themselves needing to pay deference more than ever before. Impossible won’t only need to ‘play nice’, but more integration will be needed locally, whether with a local partner or high-level local staff.

Sustaining Sustainable Eating

It should be noted that while there is a wave, knowing exactly when it will peter out is anyone’s guess. Business reports talk about a lot of trends, but how many of them can sustain a business? China’s sports, exercise and yoga market is said to be booming, but it doesn’t mean that it’s a high percentage, large quantity of the entire population. You could take a look at a certain kind of person’s Chinese social media accounts and many of their contacts will be posting photos at yoga and the gym. But then you could look at a few million others who don’t know anyone who wastes their time with such lark. Knowing how big meat-free food can scale is untested ground and will need to be trodden with caution and patience.

Varying the stance

From the perspective of the content, community and experience, they need to look at different sides of the story. Eating less meat and being ‘cruelty-free’ is a good way to speak to a segment of the population, yet simply ‘tasty, affordable, quick’ is equally as key to attract the masses. While Chinese consumers are leaning green in growing numbers, no one wants to feel like they have to save the planet with each and every meal. Fun, hip, cool, fast – these are more the brand ethos that modern Chinese consumers would follow, with cruelty-free, healthy, sustainable serves as a better backstory to the overall meal.


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