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Synthetic meat fills mooncake gap

China Daily | Updated: 2019-09-14 07:30
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Different mooncakes for the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival. [Photo/VCG]

Customers fed up with the traditional ingredients of mooncakes, such as mixed nuts and bean paste, now have a new choice-synthetic meat.

It is a Chinese tradition to eat mooncakes over Mid-Autumn Festival. A week before the festival, mooncakes stuffed with mock meat made from plant protein went on sale on e-commerce platform Taobao. In less than three days, over half of the limited 3,000 boxes had been sold.

The mooncakes came in a box of six, with each weighing 60 grams and having the Chinese character "zhen", or "precious", printed on top, and giving off a special fragrance after being baked.

Lu Zhongming, founder and CEO of Zhen Meat (Beijing) Food Technology, said the synthetic meat is made of plant protein and produced at a factory in Yantai, Shandong province.

"The flavor of the lab-grown meat is modeled on that of fresh meat in Shanghai's traditional mooncakes. Our assessment showed that the two flavors are 70 percent similar," Lu said.

By combining the futuristic synthetic meat with traditional mooncakes, the product will certainly arouse interest among customers, he said.

Lu, 28, developed an interest in lab-grown meat when he studied in the United States. Due to eating too much red meat, his weight topped 100 kilograms and he decided to go on a diet. In the process, he came across synthetic meat.

After graduation, Lu came back to China and ventured into the health food industry and found that more Chinese were nowadays concerned with following a healthy and nutritional diet. This year, he founded Zhen Meat, which focuses on developing synthetic meat.

"At present, the synthetic meat industry is still in its infancy and there is huge potential in the market," said Lu. "Lab-grown meat is not designed to replace real meat. It just gives consumers another choice."

Acknowledging that most Chinese consumers are not yet ready to embrace synthetic meat, Lu said many of his company's clients have studied overseas and about 20 percent of the orders for the new mooncakes came from foreigners.

"I don't expect the taste to be comparable to real meat. I bought it mainly because I don't have to worry too much about getting fat," said a customer named Chen Wen, who works for a private company in Beijing.

A comment on Zhen Meat's Taobao site said "tastes the same as meat. It is healthy and can reduce the consumption of animals. Why not give it a try?"

Li Jian, an associate professor at the Beijing Technology and Business University, said consumers' understanding and acceptance of synthetic meat, as well as its pricing, will be the key to the future of the new product.

Currently, the main obstacle to the mass commercialization of synthetic meat is the high cost.

"Although costs are now much lower than they were a few years ago, they are still much higher than traditional meat," said Xue Yan, secretary-general of the China Plant-based Foods Alliance.

Lu is cautiously optimistic about the future of the industry. "The generation born after 2000 will become the main consumers of synthetic meat," he said. "They have never experienced food shortages, and are willing to do their best to protect the environment and animals."


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