Vegetarianism and ‘flexitarianism’ is on the rise in Hong Kong. Corresponding with the global trend, an ever-increasing number of Hong Kong consumers are opting for plant-based and meat-free options. This can be credited to the diet’s various benefits including individual health, environmental sustainability, and animal welfare.
However, despite this high demand, vegetarian-friendly products and dishes are rarely seen in Hong Kong’s vibrant restaurant scene. Not only is it difficult to recreate Chinese dishes without meat, but many plant-based substitutes also lack the authentic flavour of meat, which is fundamental to creating delicious dishes.
As a result, many cite the lack of viable vegetarian options as the biggest barrier to becoming vegetarian. Data collected by Vegcononist finds that there are only 21 vegan and vegetarian Michelin star restaurants in Hong Kong, suggesting that even fine dining is incompatible with vegetarianism.
With a mission of making healthy and more sustainable food choices available for the Hong Kong market without sacrificing delicious flavour, Good Food Technologies has invested years and undergone rigorous market testing to develop a flavourful plant-based pork meat which can be used by restaurant chefs as well as by home-cooks. The company stands to encourage healthier lifestyles, be more sustainable, and ‘feed the world’!
Retail in Asia had the exclusive opportunity to discuss Good Food Technologies’ origins, development, market trends, and future aspirations with its co-founders, Andrew Leung and Joshua Ng.
RiA: The global take up of vegetarianism has been on the rise in recent years due to improved technology, health-conscious consumers, and a shift towards sustainability. Why did you choose to launch Good Food Technologies now?
Andrew: I incorporated a sustainability lifestyle long ago – starting from my PhD studies where I focused on turning waste materials into pharmaceutical and nutrition. I began to adopt a greener lifestyle, such as making my own detergent and converting to veganism. However, after moving back to Asia, I find the market lacking tasty, vegan options, so I decided to apply my knowledge and make an impactful alternative protein.
Joshua: I have always been a foodie passionate about sustainability – stemming from my early work in renewable energy aircraft and race cars, to recent project work at NEOM (USD 500 billion mega smart city) to help design the future food ecosystem.
We started working on Good Food full time two years ago (since July 2020). We believe in the promise of alternative proteins as a technology to greatly improve existing food systems, however Western products lacked the taste, texture, versatility, and cooking properties to excel in Asian cuisines. We launched Good Food to address this gap, by creating innovative, tasty, affordable products best suited for Asian F&B.
Ria: How does your business idea stand out from the competition?
Andrew: After speaking to numerous chefs during R&D, we discovered that there is a core ingredient which makes up the essence of Asian cuisine and contributes to the characteristic smells and tastes of our favourite authentic foods. This ingredient was fatty pork. In light of this, we created a secret ingredient, Aromax, which is a plant-based pork fat, mimicking the smell, appearance and texture of fatty pork.
Moreover, by incorporating Aromax into our product portfolio, we created pork alternatives that are healthier and tastier. Additionally, Aromax enables our products to perform better under water-based applications – which is key in Asian cuisine.
We have two core lines of business – we supply meat alternatives in bulk to food services and manufacturers as wholesale, and prepackaged frozen dumplings to consumers as retail.
Joshua: Our business idea stands out on three fronts:
Product: China has eight main cooking techniques, half of which are water-related (e.g steaming, boiling, braising). Our pork products are designed to excel in these scenarios, with superior texture, flavour and juiciness when cooked with water. This is made possible with Aromax, our animal fat mimic made with konjac.
Pricing: We believe for plant-based pork to be a viable alternative enjoyed by the masses, it needs to be cheaper than animal pork – especially given all the resource savings. Our goal is to be the most affordable pork with good taste and texture. Other players out there tend to price at a premium.
Brand positioning: Our consumer brand PLANT SIFU exemplifies our focus to excel in Chinese & Asian plant-based cuisines, with ultra-focus on delivering affordable good taste.
RiA: An essential part of Hong Kong cuisine is its meat products and flavours, how do you maintain these authentic flavours in your plant-based food alternatives?
Andrew: We work with the best talents in the culinary arts and quality management, while having a systematic approach when it comes to tasting. The core team had tasted over 1000 shaomais before finalising the recipe, and we had a plant-based xiao long bao public blind tasting with over 100 tables. We recorded results individually to avoid bias, and finalised each recipe based on statistics.
On the application side, we innovate to create people’s favourite applications, for example, Shao Mai and dumplings, starting with familiar flavours that everybody enjoys. We believe taste must not be compromised, and that is why we prioritise mastering the people’s favourites – golden corn with plant-based pork dumplings and shiitake mushroom with plant-based pork shaomai.
Joshua: To add, we focus on what we are good at – producing the best plant-based pork – and let the experts (i.e chefs) focus on developing recipes that deliver the most authentic flavours.
RiA: How does the range of Good Food Technologies’ food products differ in terms of their production processes?
Andrew: Our products are all made in Hong Kong, which gives quality assurance for some customers. Our manufacturing partners are ISO 22000 and HACCP certified. We also source most raw materials from within Asia – giving our products a shorter carbon footprint.
Joshua: Like point 3, we focus on pork, and partner with dimsum and dumpling manufacturers to co-create secondary products made with our pork.
RiA: What is the vegetarian scene like in China, where Good Food Technologies is based?
Andrew: Great question! In China, mock-meat had always been around the block, usually in the form of tofu based foods, often used in Buddhist cuisines. These dishes are generally oil-heavy to compensate for the lack of natural fats and heavy in flavour to mask the soy flavour. Curiously, also more expensive than normal meals.
When it comes to alternative proteins, it varies from city to city. For example, Hong Kong is well-versed in plant-based meats thanks to foreign and local brands – market awareness is high and people are willing to try new brands. However, most Chinese cities are quite new to this concept. Current market players have high prices or misaligned product profile, such as more western applications or unfamiliar flavours.
Joshua: There are generally two schools of vegetarianism in China – old school and new school. Old school vegetarians eat veggie for religious reasons, no five spices (e.g onions, chives etc) or any animal produce. This school is rather mature, closed circle and older. New school vegetarians eat veggie for other reasons (health, sustainability, animal welfare etc). They are open to five spice, dairy, egg or even seafood. Typically aged below 40s. Good Food is currently based in Hong Kong.
RiA: Who is your target consumer and why did you choose to target China out of all of Asia?
Andrew: China is the largest pork consumer in the world, consuming more than one million pigs a day. In recent years, pork prices experienced fluctuations due to factors like feed supply, pandemic, and international trade – plant-based alternatives could be a solution to this.
Joshua: We are targeting new school vegetarians. To add to Andrew’s point, we target China first also because of PLANT SIFU’s goal to be the #1 plant-based player globally for Chinese cuisines, it makes sense that we start with the cuisine’s origin.
RiA: With an increasing number of people cooking at home due to the pandemic, how have you made your product accessible to home chefs like your competitors?
Andrew: Following our idea, we have launched a range of ready-to-cook frozen dimsum and dumpling products for home cooking. We’re also partnered with Daydaycook to offer a range of ready-to-cook Chinese meal packs.
RiA: What are your brand’s sustainability goals? What measures are you using to determine your impact as a brand?
Andrew: The sustainability impact of plant-based meat is well documented – be it land use, water use, drug use and greenhouse gas emissions. Our sustainability goal is simple – to drive continued adoption of alternative proteins over animal protein. Our impact is measured by the number of tonnes consumed. The higher tonnage of our pork consumed, the greater sustainability impact we deliver.
RiA: Good Food Technologies had a seed investment of HKD 12 million (USD 1.5 million), how will you use this to achieve your mission?
Andew: There are two main objectives:
1– Begin building PLANT SIFU brand as the #1 plant-based option for Chinese cuisines – start with dominating HK and penetrating both food service and retail
2- Setup China pilot production facility and launch GBA business
RiA: After a successful first year, what are your business aspirations for the future?
Andrew: We wish to expand beyond Hong Kong – hopefully producing and selling soon in GBA, and growing our product portfolio to other categories.
Plant Sifu aspires to be the #1 plant-based brand for Chinese and Asian cuisines, starting with pork and dimsum.