Is the world’s biggest pork consumer ready for substitutes, as African swine fever burns a path through China’s hog herds?

15-Aug-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Chicago-based Sustainable Bioproducts could provide a substitute protein to help China cope with pork shortages as a virus threatens to halve the nation’s hog industry this year, according to two board members at the start-up.

Tony Vernon, former chief executive of Kraft Foods who joined the company’s board this week, said the recent African swine fever epidemic has highlighted the role that alternative protein technology could play in resolving the unfolding food crisis.

“While the need for alternative protein technology is not confined to a single market, in a country like China, which already is facing a shortage of arable land and now must tackle both issues of the African swine fever epidemic and climate change, alternative protein has definitely a role to play there,” said Vernon.

Different from plant-based proteins, the company’s edible protein is derived from a fermentation technology based on extremophile organisms found in the Yellowstone National Park’s volcanic springs.

Vernon, who serves on the boards of several biotech start-ups, said Sustainable Bioproducts is open to launching their own brands or establishing partnerships with other food groups in the mainland.

China, which consumed half of the world’s pork production in 2018, saw the size of its hog herd shrink 25.8 per cent in June from a year ago, according to data from the National Bureau of Statistics. The virus, which was first detected a year ago and is deadly to pigs but not harmful to humans, has now spread to all 31 Chinese mainland provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions.

Rabo Bank estimated recently that the outbreak could halve China’s pig herd this year, triggering a 25 per cent decline in pork production.

Sustainable Bioproducts completed a financing round in February that was partly backed by Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a $1 billion tech fund led by Bill Gates with the support of Alibaba Group Holding executive chair Jack Ma, SoftBank Group’s founder and chief executive Masayoshi Son, and Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos. The financing round was led by 1955 Capital, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm.

Andrew Chung, a board member of Sustainable Bioproducts and founder of the venture capital firm 1955 Capital, said the company expects a full-scale commercialisation of their product platform in the next 12 to 18 months, and is currently working on gaining regulatory approvals in the US.

“There is definitely a role for alternative protein in a market like China,” said Chung. “In a country where there are constant food safety concerns and scandals, there is a clear survival-driven demand for a clean, traceable source of protein in food production.”

Sustainable Bioproducts’ chief executive Thomas Jonas told the Post previously that he was optimistic about the potential for the protein alternative to be used in Chinese pork buns served in dim sum restaurants throughout the mainland.

Local food safety concerns came to the fore during the summer of 2016 when it was discovered that mainland bred pigs fed prohibited drugs used to treat asthma but misused to artificially enhance animal growth and leanness were imported into Hong Kong.

Sustainable Bioproducts will be competing with other foreign plant-based meat makers in the mainland market such as Beyond Meat, which has plans to start distributing on the this year. Shenzhen-based Whole Perfect Food is another well-established rival with local product facilities producing plant-based meat products.

According to Allied Market Research, the global meat substitute market is expected to grow to $7.55 billion by 2025, up from an estimated $4.18 billion in 2017.


Category: China

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