Nestlé has shrugged off the growing competition in China’s emerging plant-based meat market as the Swiss giant launches its Harvest Gourmet brand in the country.

The world’s largest food maker is the latest in a number of domestic and international manufacturers to start selling plant-based meat products in China.

Among the companies to hit the market this year include Shandong province-based Yantai Shuangta Food, which is known for vermicelli, last month launching nine plant-meat products under a new strategy dubbed ‘Peas Ecosystem’. 

In June, US-based Cargill rolled out its PlantEver brand in China, focusing on vegan chicken-style nuggets. In April, China-based meat giant Shuanghui launched a plant-meat brand Su Shi Jie, which translates as ‘vegetarian world’ in English.

Altug Guven, senior vice president of the group’s Nestlé Professional division in Greater China, insisted he welcomed the competition and argued the world’s largest food maker would be able stand out given its global R&D muscle. “We have around 300 people in eight R&D centres to bring new ideas to shelves as quickly as within a year,” he told just-food.

Guven added Nestlé has been encouraged to innovate in China by the country’s government, which motivated the company to launch Harvest Gourmet now, despite Covid-19 weakening the local economy. “Modern agriculture is one of the industries that the Chinese government encourages multinationals to invest in to enhance China’s innovation capabilities. Nestlé will continue to pursue in-depth localisation and contribute to China’s food industry and China’s efforts to protect the environment,” Guven said.

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The Harvest Gourmet products, being made in Tianjin, including six products for the retail sector – plant-based chicken nuggets, kung pao chicken (a spicy stir fry dish), braised meatballs, braised pork belly, sausages and a “spicy wok” line (a mixture of different meats that will include chicken and beef) – which will be available from “mid-December”, the company said. The products will be sold on Harvest Gourmet’s Tmall online store and, from the end of this month, Alibaba’s bricks-and-mortar grocery stores Hema in Shanghai and Beijing.

China’s foodservice sector, including restaurants, cafes and caterers, can expect to see the supply of four plant-based products – faux burger patties, chicken nuggets, beef mince and pork mince – this month.

Asked if Nestlé plans to sell Harvest Gourmet across Asia, Guven said China is, at present, the company’s primary market in the region for plant-based meat. The brand is also already on sale in Australia. Worldwide, Nestlé has launched a variety of plant-meat products in the US under the Sweet Earth brand and under Garden Gourmet in Europe.