Is Alternative Meat the Recipe for a Healthier Planet? | Tao Zhang | TED | Summary and Q&A

January 10, 2024
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Is Alternative Meat the Recipe for a Healthier Planet? | Tao Zhang | TED


New proteins have the potential to address China's rising demand for meat and seafood while reducing the environmental impact, but challenges such as negative perceptions and regional preferences need to be overcome.

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Key Insights

  • 🌍 China's involvement is crucial in achieving global climate goals, and investing in alternative proteins is a key way to engage Chinese consumers and tackle environmental challenges in the country.
  • 💰 China consumes a significant portion of the world's meat and seafood, presenting a massive market opportunity for new proteins that are plant-based, microbial, or cell-based.
  • 🇨🇳 Chinese consumers have a deep cultural connection to meat, and traditional mock-meat products have been met with negative perceptions. New protein alternatives must be tasty, affordable, regionally appropriate, and have strong branding and marketing campaigns to appeal to mainstream consumers.
  • 🍽️ Regional diversity in Chinese cuisine presents a challenge for alternative proteins, as each province or region has distinct cooking styles. Innovation, research and development, and widespread distribution channels, including online selling, are necessary for success.
  • 🥛 Plant-based drinks, such as Oatly's oat-based milk tea, have seen initial success and offer a capital-efficient way to introduce new proteins to the Chinese market.
  • 💼 Entrepreneurs and investors play a crucial role in developing and supporting new protein companies in China. Investment in local production, distribution, and partnerships with established brands and chains are key to gaining momentum and overcoming negative perceptions.
  • 🌱 The new protein sector in China is gaining momentum, with government support and initiatives, boot camps for entrepreneurs, and endorsements from Chinese President Xi Jinping.
  • 🌏 Climate-friendly investors should capitalize on the market potential of new proteins in China, as the country's rising demand for quality proteins and the need for sustainable solutions make it an essential part of the global climate change solution.


My wife is the last person in the world who would consider me a foodie type of person. She is always puzzled at why, sometimes, I couldn't even tell the difference between beef and pork when shopping or eating. So a few years ago, when I told her that I found my calling in food, as an impact investor, she was shocked, and thought I had a midlife cr... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: How can new proteins help China address its environmental challenges?

New proteins, such as plant-based, microbial, and cell-based alternatives, have the potential to reduce China's reliance on resource-intensive animal proteins, which contribute to environmental issues such as deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions. By promoting the adoption of new proteins, China can make significant progress in tackling climate change and achieving its environmental goals.

Q: What challenges do new proteins face in China?

One of the main challenges is the cultural attachment to meat in Chinese cuisine and the perception of alternative proteins. Traditional mock-meat products have had a negative perception, and mainstream consumers in China are not easily swayed by the moral argument for plant-based meats. Additionally, Chinese consumers have high demands regarding taste, price, and convenience, and each region has its distinct cooking style, requiring regionally appropriate alternatives.

Q: What are the key factors for successful adoption of new proteins in China?

Successful adoption of new proteins in China requires investments in innovation, research, and development to create products that are tasty, affordable, and regionally appropriate. It also necessitates the establishment of widespread distribution channels, engagement with high-end chefs, and the development of compelling brands that appeal to younger consumers. Marketing campaigns and collaboration between entrepreneurs and relevant stakeholders are crucial to increasing consumer awareness and acceptance.

Q: How has the alternative dairy company, Oatly, found success in China?

Oatly's success in China can be attributed to its localized product and marketing strategy. They developed an oat-based drink, the Oatly Tea Master, specifically designed for milk tea, which is a popular beverage in China. By collaborating with local partners and expanding distribution channels, Oatly was able to enter over 50,000 tea stores in China, selling 20 million units by the end of 2022.

Q: What is the role of entrepreneurs in promoting new proteins in China?

Entrepreneurs play a crucial role in promoting new proteins in China by developing products that appeal to mainstream consumers in terms of taste, affordability, and convenience. They also help overcome negative perceptions associated with plant-based products by creating a new look and feel and working with the right distribution partners. Additionally, entrepreneurial efforts contribute to innovation, marketing, and raising awareness within the industry.

Q: How is the new protein sector gaining momentum in China?

The new protein sector in China is gaining momentum through various initiatives. Entrepreneurship programs, boot camps, and government support are helping inspire and educate entrepreneurs in the field. Chinese President Xi Jinping's remarks on seeking new proteins from plants and microbes highlight the government's interest in this area. Collaborations with local governments and investment firms, such as Dao Foods, are further driving the growth and development of the new protein sector in China.

Q: Why are international investors hesitant to invest in new proteins in China?

Some international investors may be hesitant to invest in new proteins in China due to geopolitical concerns or uncertainty about repatriating their funds. There may also be a flawed assumption that China's problems require solutions led solely by Chinese people. However, considering China's rising demand for quality proteins and the global impact of addressing climate change, international investors should recognize the potential and collaborate to make China part of the global solution.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Investing in new proteins can help China tackle climate change and achieve its environmental goals while also presenting a significant business opportunity.

  • Chinese consumers have a strong cultural attachment to meat, making it essential to create new proteins that are tasty, affordable, and regionally appropriate.

  • Entrepreneurs and the industry as a whole need to invest in innovation, marketing, and distribution channels to drive the adoption of new proteins.

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