Nestle launches plant-based Harvest Gourmet brand in China

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Nestle logo is pictured on the door of the supermarket of Nestle headquarters in Vevey, Switzerland, February 13, 2020. REUTERS/Pierre Albouy

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BEIJING/SHANGHAI, Dec 9 (Reuters) - Nestle (NESN.S) launched its plant-based Harvest Gourmet brand in China on Wednesday, moving into the country's meat substitute industry that has seen a surge of interest from investors and brands over the past year.

The Swiss food and drink giant said the brand, which is available in Australia, would offer burgers, sausages, nuggets and mince, and will also sell dishes aimed to appeal to Chinese taste-buds, such as kung pao chicken, braised meatballs and pork belly.

Demand for alternatives to regular meat is surging due to concerns about health, animal welfare and the environment.

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Entrants to China's meat substitute market in recent months have ranged from domestic firms Zhenmeat and Starfield to U.S. firm Beyond Meat Inc (BYND.O), which has collaborations with Starbucks (SBUX.O) and Yum China's KFC chain.

Harvest Gourmet products sold in China will be produced by Nestle's faux-meat factory in Tianjin, its first in Asia.

The brand will open an online store on Alibaba Group's (9988.HK) Tmall marketplace this month, and will gradually start offering products for sale from Alibaba's Hema supermarket chain by the end of 2020, Nestle said.

"We see China leading the trend towards a new generation of plant-based food in Asia, as people look for options that are good for them and good for the planet," Rashid Qureshi, chief executive of Nestle Greater China, said in a statement.

"If you look at 2014 to 2018, the growth of plant-based meat is doubling in China, which means (there is) ongoing awareness," Qureshi said in an interview with Reuters on Wednesday. "The challenge are (meeting) what they expect from the product."

He believes that consumers are chiefly concerned with the taste and texture, and a product will not sell if it does not taste good, whatever the price.

"Price-wise we are trying to be in line with the pricing of meat," he said. "If it is too expensive, I don't think consumers will try it."

The jury, however, is still out on whether Chinese consumers are really embracing plant-based meat substitutes.

A survey last month by state broadcaster CCTV showed that nearly half of 2,659 respondents were unwilling to try fake meat, and just 13.7% said they had tried some products and that they tasted good.

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Reporting by Sophie Yu and Brenda Goh, Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips and Louise Heavens

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