Features Taiwan Food

Taiwan meat-substitute makers take growing share of enthusiastic global market

20, Dec. 2019

Photo by Igor Miske on Unsplash
Photo by Igor Miske on Unsplash

TAIPEI, NNA – Vegetarians, vegans, flexitarians, call them what you may, the world’s meat-substitute market is mushrooming from Buddhists to Olympic athletes. Plant-based protein sellers in Taiwan are taking an ever-larger cut of that market due to growth in consumption at home and their own business acumen that draws increasingly on exports.

In the home market, nearly 3 million people or 14 percent of Taiwan’s population are self-claimed vegetarians and that count excludes flexitarians, -- people who prefer veggies but usually stray back to meat -- said Chen Li-ting, researcher at the Taiwan government’s Food Industry Research and Development Institute.

Domestic demand naturally brings business locally.

“Going vegetarian is kind of becoming a trend these days,” said Chen Chun-yu, CEO of Taiwan’s largest meat-free food product maker Vegefarm Corp. Chen’s firm which supplies more than 300 mainly soy bean-based items to 25 countries with revenue expected to top 600 million New Taiwan dollars ($197 million) this year.

A meat-free diet in Taiwan is conventionally associated with Buddhism, which discourages the slaughter of animals. Plant-protein meat alternatives often sell in Taiwan’s traditional markets—places that young people seldom visit. But growing awareness of climate changes and animal rights has motivated younger people to shun meat.

Vegefarm Corp. CEO Chen Chun-yu poses with the firm’s major products at its headquarters in Taoyuan City, Taiwan on Nov. 13.
Vegefarm Corp. CEO Chen Chun-yu poses with the firm’s major products at its headquarters in Taoyuan City, Taiwan on Nov. 13.

Tasty meat-free formulas

Taiwanese meat substitute sellers are coming out with formulas that appeal to people’s quest for a meat-like flavor. Some are leveling up competition by working together with foreign brands.

Japanese food chain Mos Food Services Inc.’s Taiwanese joint venture, An-Shin Food Services Co., for example, began to sell burgers using California-based food inventor Beyond Meat’s patties in five shops in June. The store count reached 32 in August following positive reaction at the first five, MOS said in a statement.

The developer of Beyond Meat’s patties comes from Taiwan. That’s Hsieh, Fu-hung, retired from teaching at the University of Missouri. “A meat alternative made from plant protein is more resource efficient in terms of land, water, and energy… and can reduce illness or mortality associated with excessive consumption of animal proteins,” Hsieh told NNA in an e-mail.

Poultry-free yet poultry-like products feature among Taiwan’s meat substitutes. Then there’s veggie squid: Vegefarm is trying to capture younger next-gen vegetarians by selling “meat-free squid balls” at local 7-Eleven stores. Sales started in October.

Sales of this single item earned a turnover of a NT$2 million in the first month, Chen said.

Hung Yang Foods Co., a fellow Taiwanese brand established in 1995, expects revenue of nearly NT$500 million this year, is focusing on non-meat nutrition bars for sportspeople. Half a year ago the company began selling through 7-Elevens in Taiwan, President Jack Hsieh told NNA in a phone interview on Nov. 11.

Offshore business expansion

Both Taiwanese firms have aggressively built up the portion of their foods for export. Both say they expect business to grow and list on the domestic stock exchange in two to three years.

Vegefarm now exports around 70 percent to markets including Hong Kong, Japan and the United States. Hung Yang Foods has elevated its exports to 80 percent of total shipments this year, from 50 percent in 2014, Hsieh said.

The 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games offers new business opportunities, Chen said. He believes up to one-third of contestants will shun meat.

A Japanese food chain has already approached Vegefarm to buy meat-free patties, and another Japanese retailer will begin to sell food using Vegefarm products next March, Chen said.

The global plant-based meat substitute market will be worth $6.5 billion by 2026 based on a compound annual growth rate of 7.6 percent from 2018 to 2025, the government institute says. It cites a forecast by the research institute Coherent Market Insights.