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2020-10-22 11:40:07

One of China’s most popular restaurants is partnering with a domestic artificial meat brand to add plant-based chicken burgers to its menu, marking the first large-scale partnership between two such companies.

Dicos, a Chinese fast-food chain offering primarily chicken products, announced its promotion with Shenzhen-based artificial meat brand Starfield in a post Tuesday on microblogging platform Weibo.

According to a related report by domestic outlet Red Star News, the imitation chicken patties have virtually the same taste, smell, and mouthfeel as their real-meat counterparts — and at a comparable price of around 20 yuan ($3), the greener, healthier sandwiches are expected to present an enticing new option to China’s price-sensitive consumers.

The new meatless options are a response to diners’ increasing interest in healthy diets, as well as their growing environmental consciousness, according to Xie Yahui, Dicos’ chief marketing officer. “Our intention is to provide more young consumers in China with opportunities to try plant-based meat, while also advocating for a ‘green diet’ concept,” Xie told Red Star News.

The Starfield imitation chicken products are now available at virtually all of Dicos’ 2,600 locations on the Chinese mainland. Customers can also order them on takeout apps Ele.me and Meituan, as well as e-commerce platform Tmall.

The imitation meat tastes like a chicken-flavored fish cake.

Dicos may be the first large Chinese fast-food chain to offer plant-based products in the country, but it’s not the first to test domestic appetites for imitation meat. Earlier this year, Western chains KFC and Starbucks partnered with companies including Cargill, Omnipork, and Beyond Meat to introduce their own such products.

Artificial meat is now a booming industry worldwide, with U.S. firms Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods setting the pace in terms of food technology. Recently, Chinese companies, too, have started experimenting with imitation meat products, hoping to come out on top in the ongoing battle for the domestic market and its enormous potential for profit.

A 22-year-old Dicos customer in the eastern Shandong province, surnamed Su, told Sixth Tone that she really likes the chain’s plant-based chicken, which is even tastier and tenderer than a regular sandwich.

“The new burger comes with pickled bamboo shoots, and to me the imitation meat tastes like a chicken-flavored fish cake, which is really good,” Su said, adding that the product is a refreshing alternative to the soy-derived foods common in China.

“I think the artificial meat market depends on society’s demands. For example, people like me who like the taste will purchase the products, and if the price is reduced, more consumers may be willing to give them a try,” Su said. “For this particular Dicos burger, it brought my taste buds quite a lot of pleasure.”

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: Promotional images for the new plant-based meat items at Chinese fast-food chain Dicos, 2020. From @德克士Dicos on Weibo)