Impossible Foods says China its top priority meat substitute market

(This September 9 story corrects spelling of chief executive’s name to Pat O. Brown, not O’Brown)

FILE PHOTO: The completed plant-based hamburger is displayed during a media tour of Impossible Foods labs and processing plant in Redwood City, California, U.S. October 6, 2016. REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach/File Photo

FUXIAN LAKE, China (Reuters) - Impossible Foods, a California-based producer of meat substitutes made from plants, is actively working to speed up its entry into China, its number one priority when it comes to overseas markets, the company’s chief executive told Reuters.

The firm has already launched its products in Hong Kong and Macau and now ships to 450 restaurants in Asia, but it wants to boost its presence in the Chinese mainland, where meat production is harder as a result of chronic land and water shortages, Pat O. Brown said.

He said the company was in preliminary talks with potential partners, and was hoping to find enterprises or local governments that would help bring their technology to China once the firm completes the required regulatory processes.

“China is our highest priority for future expansion, full stop,” Brown told Reuters on the sidelines of the Fortune Sustainability Forum at Fuxian Lake in southwest China’s Yunnan province.

“It is the biggest consumer of meat in the world,” he said. “Something like half the growth in meat consumption globally in the past 10 years or so has been in China. Effectively, the place where we can have the greatest impact on our mission is in China.”

Impossible Foods' main rival, Los Angeles-based Beyond Meat BYND.O, has also yet to make a move into China. The foreign firms will also face competition from domestic companies such as Shenzhen-based Whole Perfect Foods.

Brown said Impossible Foods eventually aims to move some production into Asia, with the firm already looking at potential sites. He did not elaborate.

“We wish it was faster but we’ll go through it, just as we have in the United States and other places,” he said. “I am completely confident that we will make it.”

“As soon as we have gone through the process and are welcomed into China by the government, and we have partners to work with, we’re going to move as fast as we possibly can,” he added.

While China’s per capita meat consumption is much lower than the United States, demand has been increasing. It produces about 54 million tonnes of pork a year, about half the world’s total.

China’s beef production also rose to its highest level in at least 20 years last year at 6.44 million tonnes, and imports have surged. It also buys about 60% of globally traded soybeans to feed its pigs and other livestock.

The government has been trying to address environmental pressures caused by livestock farming, shutting down or relocating large numbers of poorly-managed pig and chicken farms. The state-run China Nutrition Society has even tried - with little success - to encourage the public to eat less meat and dairy.

Reporting by David Stanway; Additional reporting by Dominique Patton in BEIJING; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman