Beyond Meat has teamed up with Freshippo to launch its products in the Alibaba Group-owned New Retail supermarket as the plant-based market heats up in China.
Los Angeles-based Beyond Meat is launching its flagship Beyond Burger – a plant-based meat burger designed to replicate the flavor and texture of a hamburger patty – in 50 Freshippo stores in Shanghai this weekend. The brand will later roll out the product more broadly, starting with select locations in Beijing and Hangzhou in September, it said in a statement on Wednesday.
This marks Beyond Meat’s first foray into mainland China’s supermarkets since entering the market in April. Earlier this year, Beyond Meat announced launches with Starbucks and Yum China, the local owner of some of the country’s most popular fast-food restaurants, to introduce new menu items containing its plant-based proteins. The brand said its products were available at approximately 94,000 retail and foodservice outlets in 75 countries worldwide, as of the first quarter of this year.
“We are proud to partner with Alibaba’s Freshippo, a dominant player in the retail space, to introduce our hallmark Beyond Burger to home cooks throughout China,” said Ethan Brown, founder and CEO of Beyond Meat. The company said its Beyond Burger is not just limited to burgers, but can be adapted into Chinese recipes, including for fried rice and noodles as well as dumplings.
“We know that retail will be a critical part of our success in China, and we’re pleased to mark this early milestone within a few months of our market entry,” Brown said. “Following recent food-service announcements with Starbucks, KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell in China, as well as our distribution partnership with Sinodis, expanding into retail is the natural next step in building our market presence.”
Zhao Jiayu, senior director and head of merchandising at Freshippo, expressed excitement over the future possibilities of this collaboration between a pioneering brand in the plant-based meats segment and an innovation-driven supermarket reimagining the future of grocery shopping. She said Freshippo would offer the brand a seamless, online-to-offline platform to reach its young and affluent consumer base.
“Beyond Meat and Freshippo share a vision of bringing innovative shopping experiences and products to our customers,” said Zhao. “Freshippo’s New Retail technology will enable plant-based meat to grow in China by meeting the modern Chinese consumer’s expectations whether they are shopping online or offline.”
Freshippo, also known as Hema in Chinese, is Alibaba’s most successful example of New Retail to date and serves as a testbed for innovations that can be leveraged by other retail partners, such as RT-Mart and Starbucks. Since opening its first store in 2016, the chain has soared in popularity with Chinese consumers thanks to its tech-driven, mobile-first shopping experience, which includes everything from 30-minute online-delivery services and unmanned checkout kiosks to mobile-scanned product details and fulfillment conveyor belts.
WATCH: A Tour of Freshippo’s Different Store Formats
Unlike traditional groceries, about 60% of Freshippo’s gross merchandise volume comes from online purchases, according to its latest figures. The New Retail-driven supermarket has since expanded to 207 stores in over 20 Chinese cities, while experimenting with new store formats, including farmers’ markets, breakfast take-out stands and even a shopping mall, to address the full spectrum of consumer needs.
Freshippo is known for carrying a wide variety of quality products to its shoppers, and about 40% of Freshippo’s products are imported from overseas. Beyond Meat is the latest innovative global brand to join the shelves of Freshippo. The company went public last year in one of the most successful initial public offerings in 2019 and was recently ranked among the world’s 50 most-innovative companies by Fast Company for leading the way in popularizing plant-based meat.
To stay ahead of the curve, Beyond Meat established its own research-and-development lab in California that is focused around the goal of creating meat from plants that is completely indistinguishable from its animal-protein equivalent.
Today, China remains the world’s largest consumer of meat, with a retail value estimated at $170 billion annually, according to market-research company Euromonitor. But as plant-based-food upstarts are tipping towards mainstream acceptance, China – with its love for all things new and trendy – is now being heralded as a potential market for plant-based lifestyles to take off. Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, Euromonitor last year predicted that China’s “free from meat” market, including plant-based meat substitutes, would be worth nearly $12 billion by 2023, up from just under $10 billion in 2018.
Chinese consumers have also become more health-conscious in recent years, and the trend has only been further accelerated by the pandemic. Per a China survey published last month by global management consultancy McKinsey, more than 70% of respondents said they’d spend more time and money purchasing safe and eco-friendly products, while three-quarters said they wanted to eat more healthily after the crisis.
Sign up for our newsletter to receive the latest Alibaba updates in your inbox every week.