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Author: Ben Davis

Benjamin Davis overseas the programming for the world’s first and only fully plant-based trade expo and accompanying news site. Ben’s mission is to make delicious, natural foods accessible to everyone. He believes that diet and lifestyle are the keys to a balanced and prosperous future for all beings on Earth. Outside of his work in food, Ben is a music producer and performer under the stage name Vibe Street. Ben is determined to spend his life building community and celebrating this mysterious human experience to the fullest!

DAO Foods – Empowering Changemakers for 1.4 Billion Consumers

Plant Based World Pulse had the opportunity to sit down with Albert Tseng, co-founder of Dao Foods to discuss the massive opportunity that exists for plant-based foods in China.

A Billion Dollar Opportunity


Albert Tseng, co-founder of Dao Foods

“China represents a market of 1.4 billion consumers. The marketplace is currently akin to what you may have experienced in the United States about 7-8 years ago, with many products in a development phase and not too many of them yet being seen as permanent items on menus”, Tseng shares.

This perspective alone should perk up the ears of any investor in this space. If the trajectory of the Chinese marketplace follows anywhere near what we have seen in the United States, the next decade will be an exciting one for the evolution of food culture in China. Combine that with the immensity of  1.4 billion consumers with many challenges needing to be solved, and there is clearly some money to be made.

Key opportunities exist in both retail, where packaged plant-based products have not yet penetrated the shelves to their full potential and in foodservice, where highly advanced food delivery technology makes trying new things accessible for the many eaters in urban areas throughout China.

“For people living in cities in China”, Tseng shares, “it is not uncommon to be able to get food delivered to your door in under 20 minutes at no additional charge. Companies are constantly running promotions making it easy for customers to try something new once. The challenge, however, is getting those customers to repeat their purchases. There is a high volume of options to move on to something else if they have not been blown away by their first experience with a new item.”

Change is Necessary

Dao Foods mission is to support the entrepreneurs who are pushing forward to shift the food system in the face of the cultural challenges that the past few years have presented. While the global landscape has been difficult to work within, it has also made it clearer than ever that innovation is a necessary solution.  

Dao is currently invested in 16 Chinese companies committed to bringing about a healthier and more sustainable food system. These companies range from producers of meat and dairy alternatives to synthetic biology, mycelium fermentation and even cultured meat. Dao has taken a holistic approach to evolving the food system by seeking out seriously mission-driven entrepreneurs and enterprises that are tackling challenges from a wide variety of angles.

Collaboration in Foodservice

One of the stars of the portfolio is Starfield Food Science and Technology, a Shenzhen company focused on developing meat alternatives, prepared foods, snacks, and protein bars. Starfield recently closed a $100 million series B fundraising round, which can serve as a sign to anyone keen on investing in the Chinese market that there is some real activity and interest in bringing these products to market. Starfield is ahead of the curve, having already sold in over 37,000 locations and collaborating with recognizable names such as 7/11 and KFC. Starfield received a plethora of “New Product” awards in 2021 and will be a name to keep an eye on as the market continues to expand.

Communicating Health Benefits

Another company in the portfolio is called 70/30, based out of Shanghai. “70/30 takes a unique approach to communicating the benefits of their products. The 70 in the name represents 70% whole foods – meaning the healthy stuff that our bodies really want and need. The 30% represents fun and tasty, which is essential to get customers to try the products and come back for more. 70/30 is also unique in that their packaging leads with the functional benefits of the foods, rather than leading with the term ‘Plant-based’ or ‘vegan’”, shares Tseng.

The decision to lead with the functionality and nutrition information rather than the ‘plant-based’ labelling allows 70/30 to target customers who would not normally be looking for a plant-based option, but might just happen to try it because they are looking for those nutritional benefits. They believe in convenience as a key factor for Chinese eaters and have built a philosophy based on combining technology with ready meals to make their products as convenient and functional as possible.

The way 70/30 embodies this philosophy is fascinating. To discover the most functional white meat alternative they came across mycelium as the base ingredient. “Mushrooms have long been approved for human consumption in China due to their medicinal uses”, Tseng shares. “This made the process for 70/30 to use these ingredients easier, as they are already culturally accepted. The challenge then becomes how to use science appropriately to use that same base ingredient as a meat alternative”.  

70/30 is about to launch their ready meal products into market and represents a great example of how the plant-based industry is necessarily affected by each region’s unique culture and history. As human health continues to be a leading motivator for people to shift to plant-based foods, how interesting would it be for medicinal mushrooms, used for human health since ancient times, to play a major role in the manifestation of a healthier food system? 

Kroger and Hannaford Lead the Way with Plant Based Foods Association Partnerships

It was not long ago that a plant-based eater had to make a separate trip to a natural and organic store like Whole Foods to find a real selection of meat, dairy and other alternatives. This is no longer the case, thanks to recent programs launched by the Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA) in partnership with leading grocers Kroger and Hannaford.

The groundbreaking test with Kroger took place in 60 stores from late 2019 to early 2020. The data was clear: when America’s largest grocery chain placed plant-based products in the meat department, sales of those items increased by 23% on average. A clear sign to the food retail world that consumers are now looking for these products in the traditional meat aisle, and there is money to be made in offering them in this place.

More recent data has shown steep increases in consumption of plant-based food during the pandemic months with 50% growth in plant-based customers and 75% growth in sales. The numbers prove that American shoppers want healthier, more sustainable options now more than ever.

4 shelves of plant-based meats amidst the traditional animal products at Kroger. Photo courtesy of PBFA

PBFA’s newest program with leading retailer Hannaford spans beyond the meat department to the dairy and shelf-stable sections of the store. The partnership thus far has highlighted the importance of creative merchandising to drive consumer attention to the new products that are available. The Plant Based Foods Association is working directly with the grocer to shine a deserving spotlight on these sought-after foods, while also educating grocery employees to understand the benefits that these products have to offer.

Hannaford’s version of a plant-based section in the traditional meat aisle. Photo courtesy of PBFA

These efforts not only increase the bottom line for the grocery store and the brands they carry, but builds community while doing it. There is a true excitement that comes from participating in the movement towards a more plant-based world – an elevated sense of purpose that we can both do our jobs successfully and help people feel healthier and happier while doing so.

Julie Emmett, Senior Director of Retail Partnerships for PBFA, has taken the reins on these initiatives:

PBFA‘s role is to actively support the opportunities and minimize the challenges that a shift in merchandising presents. The incredible results that Kroger and Hannaford have shared have encouraged PBFA as well as major brands to create advisory teams to ensure industry-wide success of this shift in merchandising across the 17+ plant-based food categories available. The opportunity for retailers to provide shoppers with the options they crave – and to profit from those efforts – is becoming limitless!

-Julie Emmett

When the most influential grocery businesses in the United States are on the front lines of this shift, we can only expect the rest to follow. This transformation of consumer habits is here to stay and we look forward to following the great work of PBFA and their partners for many years to come!

Investing In Abundance with Big Idea Ventures

“That’s the goal, right? If we can create a range of products that satisfy everybody’s taste, then it’s not about abstinence – it’s about abundance.” -Andrew Ive, Managing General Partner, Big Idea Ventures

This message of abundance is the guiding philosophy of Andrew Ive and his team at Big Idea Ventures. This food-focused, forward-thinking firm has established itself as a unique resource for companies looking to grow within the alternative protein space.

Big Idea Venture’s mission is simple and impactful: solve the world’s biggest challenges by supporting the world’s best entrepreneurs. The proof is in the oat-milk pudding… two thirds of BIV’s first cohort of startups ended up receiving over $1 million in funding from outside investors after working with the firm. Alongside these seed funding initiatives, BIV reinvests 60% of its funds into its best companies, creating waves of impact at multiple levels.

Andrew’s work through Big Idea Venture’s is successful because it is aligned. His career started in the mainstream cosmetic retail world at Proctor and Gamble. Though, he found a deeper sense of purpose when he shifted to working in the food space.

He cites with passion, “food touches people, it touches families… and it has the power to solve many of the world’s problems related to climate, ethics and health”.

This is meaningful work, as anyone who is a part of the plant-based community can attest to. To go along with his sense of purpose, Andrew has become keenly aware of his skillset and the unique areas where he and his team are able to add value for clients.

“The things I am decent at are unpacking what’s making a company work and what’s making a company fail, and understanding the different pieces of that puzzle and how to rearrange them to help that company grow.”

Specialization at it’s finest! Andrew started out in retail, ventured into the broad world of food technology and then narrowed his focus down specifically to alternative proteins. This is the area where his energy could be used most efficiently. Three years later, Big Idea Ventures is using the resources and experience of the traditional CPG industry and applying it to a vision for a healthier world.