According to 36Kr, Hey Maet, the new force in plant-based meat in China, has recently announced its strategic cooperation with Shuangta Food [SHE:002481], and investment from Shenzhen Tiantu Capital and Silicon Valley investor Wei Guo. Hey Maet aspires to become the top brand of plant-based meat in China, providing consumers with the most delectable plant-based meat products such as hamburger patties, Chinese and Western sausages, minced pork, minced beef, beef cubes, and chicken nuggets, to set the new trend of plant-based diet in China.
Hey Maet was founded in 2020 in the wake of the pandemic. It is named as Maet instead of Meat as an effort to redefine a piece of meat, and change consumers’ perception of meat products.
The team boasts a strong arsenal of technologies and years of experience in products R&D. Professor David Drubin from UC Berkeley, who is also a fellow of American Academy of Arts and Sciences, has come on board together with other plant-based meat experts from the University of Wisconsin, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and University of Helsinki in Finland to provide technical support. The core members of the team come from companies such as Kellogg’s, Totole, Shuhai, Baixiang Food, LVMH and New Hope Group. The founder, a vegetarian for 10 years, has been on a quest to create plant-based meat products that are both delicious and nutritious, and had gone as far as Israel to visit cell meat, 3D printed meat and seaweed protein meat companies to better understand the alternative protein market.
The funds obtained from this round of investment are mainly for technology R&D, laboratory construction, channel development and brand promotion. For product promotion that ensues, offline catering businesses will be the major target. Hey Maet will bring together its R&D and production of Shuangta Food, make local adaption to the production process and ingredients, provide customized products for businesses, and through which offer unique delicacies made of plant-based meat acceptable to Chinese consumers. Hey Maet products are expected to be on the menu of thousands of restaurants in China by the end of the year. And the team is planning to establish a Shanghai R&D laboratory.
Among the investors, Shuangta Food is a leading producer of raw materials for plant-based food in China, including plant protein, starch, dietary fiber, edible fungi, and pea protein, of which Shuangta is the largest producer worldwide. Shuangta Food has great faith in the prospects of plant-based food market in China as its development in the field of alternative protein has been going on for a long time. In February 2020, Shuangta Food signed a sales contract with Beyond Meat, a leading US alternative protein brand, to supply pea protein. In addition, Shuangta Food has been involved in the drafting of group standards for Plant-based Food Products, working together with experts such as academician Lianzhou Jiang from International Academy of Food Science and Technology, Dr. Shuntang Guo, deputy dean of the College of Food Science and Nutritional Engineering of China Agricultural University, as well as representatives from Roquette, Nestle, Unilever, Cargill and other well-known international and Chinese companies, to strictly define the standards, scope of relevant indicators, scope of application, monitoring indicators and packaging methods.
Tiantu Capital, founded in 2002, has been focusing on consumer goods over the past 18 years of investment. The company concentrates on the three major fields of innovative consumption, new retail and consumer finance in its investment and has create a kingdom over the years, in which many are star enterprises in different fields of consumer goods such as Zhouheiya, Xiaohongshu, Pagoda, Baosf Pastry, Nayuki Tea & Bakery, Jiangxiaobai, Modern China Tea Shop and Saturnbird.
UpHonest Capital was established in 2015 by Wei Guo, an active investor in Silicon Valley, who has been making investment in quality start-ups in Silicon Valley and China from a global perspective. The company has made investments in over 350 start-ups since its establishment, with follow-up financing exceeding US $5 billion for the invested projects in multiple fields of enterprise services, biomedicine, financial technology, consumer life, entertainment media, education, artificial intelligence and cutting-edge technology. The founder Wei Guo was recognized as “40 under 40” by Fortune and was once dubbed the “China Whisper” by mainstream US media. Besides, in 2017, he was also the only Chinese recognized under both the Venture Capital and Big Money Startups categories of the Forbes “30 Under 30”. UpHonest Capital invested in three American plant-based products start-ups, Clara food, Rebellyous and Nuggs with the latest round of financing of US $16.8 million, US $11 million and US $4.1 million respectively. And Hey Maet is the first investment UpHonest made to Chinese plant-based meat companies and made with strong trust and faith in the Hey Maet team.
The alternative protein market is booming
The concept of “alternative protein” has been overshadowing everything else in the field of food science and technology since 2019, with plant-based meat becoming first of its kind to be commercialized. Compared with cultured meat, plant-based meat is more competitive with its low cost, accessible ingredients and diverse varieties. In fact, vegetable protein-based meat dates back to ancient times in Chinese food culture. However, unlike traditional vegetarian meat, plant-based meat, upon improvement and optimization with latest science and technology, has been developed beyond traditional bean products in terms of nutrition, texture and flavor, thus making the development of diversified products possible.
In the United States, fast food giants such as McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, Burger King and Starbucks have opened their arms to plant-based meat products. According to the report of Plant Based Foods Association, plant-based meat has registered a high growth rate of 18% in 2019 in the US, and the market value has grown to 939 million US dollars in just a few years, taking up 2% of the retail sales of packaged meat in the United States. Just recently, Very Good Food Company was listed on the Canadian Securities Exchange (CSE: VERY) on June 18, becoming the second plant-based food company to go public after the successful IPO of Beyond Meat last year. Its investor Eat Beyond Global Holdings announces that its share price has risen by 790%.
In China, the plant-based meat industry is at its fledging stage with start-ups like Hey Maet keeping springing up. Food giants such as Shuanghui Group, Jinzi Ham and Shuangta Food have also started their own line of plant-based meat. However, most of the plant-based meat products in China are pre-packaged and mainly sold online at the moment, making it difficult for consumers to try them personally in restaurants. This is what distinguishes Hey Maet from other plant-based meat brands as it has been committed to developing all offline channels for possible promotion of plant-based meat and has approached several catering brands for potential cooperation in 2020. And now, with investment from Shuangta Food, Hey Maet is better positioned to make new progress in expanding channels in China.
The real power of the new force of alternative protein
Plant-based meat products development entails synthetic biology, nutrition and other disciplines as protein characteristics and flavor composition are to be analyzed, and many products tastes come from various additives. Hey Maet wants to make local adaption to the production process and ingredients of plant-based meat, and create very “Chinese” dishes that suit the taste of Chinese people by combining the latest technologies in food science and synthetic biology provided by its science team with the rich experience of its Chinese R&D team in Chinese food development.
Not long ago, Hey Maet, upon completion of improvement to its first product, launched a zongzi (glutinous rice dumpling) product with plant-based meat stuffing together with the well-known snack brand Be & Cheery. The product was sold online with good results. Later, based on consumer feedback on the first product, the R&D team developed the new and upgraded second-generation of plant-based meat products, including hot pot beef balls, pork slices and plant-based dumpling stuffing. On top of the good taste and precise seasoning of the first-generation products, more natural plant materials are added to the second-generation products, with more complex plant protein sources used to make up for the weakness of plant proteins. Meanwhile, a further step has been taken toward the vision of “Clean Label”.
“Plant-based meat industry is socially significant and holds great market promise. At the recent Midi Festival, we had a booth to show plant-based meat products to those rebellious rock fans. We will continue to engage with pet lovers in the future to touch them through emotional bonds and shared passion.” said ChiChi(the founder of Hey Maet). Hey Maet’s vision for the long run is to become the No.1 brand of plant-based meat in China, to have an impact in China, the largest meat consumer in the world, on its people’s choice of meat products.