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Impossible Foods launches plant-based sausage product in HK

Hong Kong

PLANT-BASED burger maker Impossible Foods said on Thursday it would start selling its faux pork product in Hong Kong, its first expansion outside the United States as it seeks to tap more environment-conscious diners.

The sausage patty, made from soy protein, is the Silicon Valley-based company's second product since its faux beef burger in 2016.

It launched the Impossible Sausage in the United States earlier this year.

Asia is a key growth area, said chief executive Pat Brown, as the company aims to capitalise on the region's high consumption of pork.

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"Consumers are accelerating the shift to a plant-based food system. This is particularly true in Asia where pork dominates the meat market," he told an online news briefing.

David Lee, Impossible's chief financial officer, said the Impossible Sausage would be available in Hong Kong at Starbucks Corp cafes as well as restaurants including burger joint Triple O's from this month.

In August, Impossible said it secured US$200 million in funding, less than six months after raising the largest-ever amount for a food tech startup, bringing total funds raised since its 2011 founding to US$1.5 billion.

Impossible Sausage's Hong Kong debut comes more than two years after home-grown OmniPork launched its mock pork product in supermarkets and restaurants across the city.

Demand for plant-based protein foods has surged in Asia, suppliers said, as suspicion over links between wild animal meat and the novel coronavirus prompts a diet rethink, particularly in Hong Kong and mainland China.

Impossible Foods is already seeing Asia emerge as the next frontier for growth. It is able to launch its Impossible Sausage in Hong Kong because the rules are different than in mainland China.

The American fake-meat maker is concerned about how long it might take to get a regulatory nod to enter China, as rival Beyond Meat Inc deepens its push into the world's biggest meat-consuming nation.

The company makes meatless burger patties and sausages using heme - its "magic ingredient" made from genetically modified yeast - which requires regulatory approval in China.

"We're not worried about the outcome, we're just worried about the timeline," Mr Brown said, adding that he was confident about the science behind his products.

Clearing the regulatory hurdle is key to Impossible Foods tapping the vast Chinese market, which accounts for 27 per cent of the world's meat consumption by volume.

The longer it's forced to wait, the more ground it risks losing to Beyond Meat, which is building two production units near Shanghai in a bid to capture a larger slice of the Chinese market for plant-based meat substitutes.

China is the biggest opportunity for alternative-protein makers after the coronavirus pandemic wiped out restaurant sales in the US. Other players such as Sweden's Oatly AB and the US-based Eat JUST Inc, a vegan egg company, already have a Chinese presence. "I would imagine within a few years, just because of the scale of the demand in China, it will be our No. 1 market," Mr Brown said.

The faux-meat maker is talking to potential partners in China and will embark on a "pretty aggressive launch" when the approval comes, he added, without sharing any other details.

Despite the regulatory challenge, Impossible Foods doesn't plan to alter its recipe for the Chinese market as heme is the "critical ingredient" in aping the meat flavours. "There's really nothing else that does that. Can you make a car without wheels?" said Mr Brown.

Impossible Foods is planning to make its namesake pork offering the "headline product" when it gets to enter China, he said.

If the American firms can win over even a small fraction of the country's 1.4 billion people, the opportunity is massive. In 2019, Impossible Foods' sales increased by more than six times across its Asian markets of Singapore, Hong Kong and Macau. REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

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