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Virus spurs Chinese interest in vegan eggs as protein source

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Just Inc, which makes plant-based egg products and is already selling in the country, has received questions from Chinese state-backed food companies seeking animal-free protein sources amid the coronavirus outbreak, chief executive officer Josh Tetrick said.

[NEW YORK] A San Francisco-based startup making imitation eggs from mung beans is fielding a wave of inquiries from some of China's bigger food manufacturers.

Just Inc, which makes plant-based egg products and is already selling in the country, has received questions from Chinese state-backed food companies seeking animal-free protein sources amid the coronavirus outbreak, chief executive officer Josh Tetrick said.

"Some of the biggest companies, larger food manufacturers, including some that are backed by the state government, are proactively reaching out to me personally, our executive team, our board, and the team in China, about now wanting to partner," he said in an interview. China's producers are viewing the current climate as a time for more quality-controlled food, he said.

While Mr Tetrick declined to name the companies, he said that the authorities are trying to think about how to reduce the risk of future outbreaks by curbing China's reliance on meat from confined animals. The country's wet markets, where freshly slaughtered, unpackaged meat is sold, have been identified as a possible source of the deadly outbreak that's claimed more than 3,100 lives and disrupted businesses amid its global spread.

Even before the outbreak, China was already experiencing protein shortages thanks to the spread of African swine fever and its impact on pork supplies. The country is viewed as a major growth market for faux-protein producers, including Impossible Foods Inc and Beyond Meat Inc.

A spokesman for Impossible Foods reiterated the company's goal to be in China as soon as possible, saying that it had already started the approval process with China's Food and Drug Administration for its products.

Impossible Foods' plan to expand into China is unrelated to the virus outbreak, which is "the latest public health crisis due to use of animals in the food chain," the spokesman said. Beyond Meat still hopes to enter production in Asia by the end of the year, chief executive Ethan Brown said in late February, though its plans have been slowed by the virus' spread.

David Yeung, founder of Green Monday, a Hong Kong-based maker of imitation pork products and seller of other plant-based foods, echoed the view that the virus will drive consumers towards his products.

"The triple threat of coronavirus, ASF and Avian flu fully expose the vulnerability of the protein/food supply chain," Mr Yeung said. "From a consumer standpoint, demand for safe, reliable healthy food will absolutely skyrocket."

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