Los Angeles-based Beyond Meat making its first foray into mainland China’s supermarkets in partnership with Alibaba’s Freshippo stores.
Beyond Meat’s flagship product, Beyond Burger – a plant-based burger designed to replicate the flavour and texture of a beef hamburger patty – was launched in 50 Freshippo stores in Shanghai this past weekend.
The US company plans to roll out more products and locations from September, starting with Beijing and Hangzhou, according to a statement.
While this launch with Freshippo marks its first supermarket presence, Beyond Meat had already teamed up 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.
“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,” says Ethan Brown, founder and CEO of Beyond Meat. The company says 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 says. “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.”
“Beyond Meat and Freshippo share a vision of bringing innovative shopping experiences and products to our customers,” says Zhao Jiayu, senior director and head of merchandising at Freshippo. “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 fulfilment conveyor belts.
Unlike traditional supermarkets, nearly 60 per cent of Freshippo’s gross merchandise volume comes from online purchases, according to its latest figures. The supermarket chain 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 per cent of Freshippo’s products are imported from overseas. Today, China remains the world’s largest consumer of meat, with a retail value estimated at USD 170 billion annually, according to market-research company Euromonitor. But as plant-based-food becomes more common China is now in the sights of companies like Beyond Meat. Euromonitor last year predicted that China’s ‘free from meat’ market, including plant-based meat substitutes, would be worth nearly USD 12 billion by 2023, up from just under USD 10 billion in 2018.