China’s Protein Lab Helps You Snack on ‘Meat’ Worry-Free

Xin Su Shi’s Protein Lab series of plant-based faux beef products uses high protein content to help customers snack less and eat healthy.

Xin Su Shi (新素食), which literally means “new vegetarian food”, is a plant-based meat company from Hangzhou, China. It specializes in selling plant protein products, specifically plant-based faux beef, to both businesses and retail clients.

The brand’s vision is to “make tasty food more healthy and the earth greener”. On Taobao (aka Tmall) it goes by the trademark name “Protein Lab”, or Dan Bai Xiao Miao (蛋白小喵), where it sells faux beef products.

Products sold online include plant-based beef sauce and plant-based beef jerky among others. On Taobao, the plant-based beef jerky is sold at ¥34.80 (US$5.38) for every 100 gram. The plant-based sauce is sold at ¥49.90 (US$ 7.72) for a 200 gram bottle.

No (fat) worries!

One of the traits that makes Xin Su Shi different from its peers is that it tailors to young people’s taste in its marketing strategies. It stresses its low-fat, high protein feature to attract young people who are weight conscious and uses cute cartoons in its product advertisements and packaging.

One of its product taglines on Taobao says, “Tasty without worrying about weight gain — a savior for gluttons!” The product descriptions also explain that consuming high-protein food can make people feel full even when they have just a small amount.

Xin Su Shi claims that its plant-based beef jerky contains 30% protein, 13% fiber, and 26% trehalose (a sugar substitute commonly used in the food industry). The company also says the product is low in cholesterol and contains no preservatives and trans fat.

On Taobao, it says that after testing with “hundreds of participants”, results show that “most women would feel full after snacking on 2–3 small sachets of the beef jerky”.

Based on the comments customers left on Taobao, the faux beef sauce was generally well received, whereas the beef jerky seemed to have had extreme reactions — customers either loved it or hated it.

Curing the ‘three highs’

In recent years, demand for plant-based meat has been on the rise in China. Vegetarian meat alternatives were already growing in popularity in China before the pandemic.

Since the pandemic started in early 2020, plant-based faux meat has entered some chained restaurants in China. For example, fast-food chain KFC sold plant-based fried chicken for a brief trial period in 2020. Beyond Meat has also started selling its plant-based meals through Starbucks coffee shops in China.

Gao Song is Xin Su Shi’s Chief Executive Officer. He said in a speech at a technology conference that the company values consumers’ experience when designing products.

“When we create our brand and design our products, one core principle is consumer-centered. Our core thinking is what they want, why they want it, and why would they want to buy again,” Gao said.

In the same speech, he also said that one key issue of the Chinese people’s diet is that it lacks good protein — including poultry protein, dairy protein and vegetable protein. Many Chinese don’t have enough good protein in their diet.

Another health issue facing Chinese people is the “three highs,” namely high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and high blood glucose. Gao said that the company’s products deal with these health issues by providing plant-based, high-protein faux meat to improve people’s diet.

On the rise

In September 2020, Xin Su Shi received tens of millions of Chinese Yuan in funding from lead investor Matrix Partners China and follow-on investment from existing shareholder Shengmeiqiming, a Hangzhou-based venture capital fund. The company said the funds will be used for new product development and brand building.

Matrix Partners China’s partner Zuo Linhua said in a news report that “Xin Su Shi has excellent capabilities and deep experience in research and development (R&D), as well as product and branding, especially in food R&D and upstream core technology.” He believes Xin Su Shi is well positioned to excel in the alternative protein industry.

The company also won the Best Innovative Brand award in the Hi Founders Food & Beverage Start-up Pitch Competition in 2020, which aims to feature and encourage start-ups that have an annual revenue of less than 500 million Chinese Yuan.

China is the world’s biggest meat consumer, and CEO Gao believes that plant-based protein and faux meat will be a big market in the coming decades as consumers pursue a higher quality of life and become more health and sustainability conscious.