Eat Just, a San Franciscan start-up backed by Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing, said on Wednesday that one of China’s largest fast food chains will completely replace eggs with its plant-based egg substitute, giving the unicorn further traction on the mainland.
The partnership with Dicos will see the quick service restaurant replace its conventional egg patty with Eat Just’s mung bean-based product in seven dishes – three breakfast burgers, three bagel sandwiches and a Western breakfast plate. Eat Just makes the plant-based substitute under the Just Egg brand, which comes in bottles and looks like beaten fresh eggs.
“This is the first time a major quick service restaurant anywhere in the world has swapped an animal-based product with a plant-based one across multiple regular menu offerings,” said Josh Tetrick, co-founder and chief executive of Eat Just.
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Just Egg will be available in 500 of Dicos’ outlets in Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou, as well as in Liaoning and Shandong provinces. These cities have the highest percentage of consumers open to the idea of eating plant-based products, Tetrick said.
Eat Just believes more consumers will shift to plant-based substitutes after the pandemic is brought under control amid growing awareness about its health benefits due to the lack of cholesterol and its reduced environmental impact.
The introduction of the egg substitute to Dicos’ menu, seen as a rival to KFC, follows the introduction of a plant-based chicken burger from home-grown artificial meat brand Starfield across the fast-food chain’s 2,600 stores on the mainland in October.
“The introduction of Just Egg at Dicos is a product and brand upgrade based on consumers’ increasing interest in nutrition, healthier diets and environmental awareness,” said Xie Yahui, chief marketing officer at Dicos. “Adding Just Egg to our core breakfast menu offerings will allow customers to experience Just Egg in a variety of ways.”
Xie added that depending on the consumer response, the menu offerings may be expanded.
“Dicos’ bold move offers diners in China — the world’s largest consumer of eggs — a convenient opportunity to try plant-based eggs, which are delicious, healthier, and more sustainable ,” said Doris Lee, general manager at GFI Consultancy, a Shanghai-based firm focused on sustainable food and agriculture.
“Global demand for plant-based foods is skyrocketing, so Dicos will have a head start in the race to capitalise on the booming alternative protein sector,” she added.
Eat Just made its foray into mainland China in 2019, making its product available on e-commerce websites and in stores.
The unicorn, which counts Singapore’s Temasek Holdings and Li’s private investment unit Horizons Ventures among its investors, said Just Egg’s sales grew 70 per cent year on year in 2020 on online shopping platforms like Tmall and JD.com.
Tetrick said that Eat Just hopes to secure tie-ups with more restaurants and is currently in talks with a number of potential partners in China. “The health, safety and sustainability attributes of Just Egg are well-aligned with modern Chinese consumption trends, so there’s no doubt that Just Egg will be on more menus in the future,” he said.
Eat Just is also expanding its product offerings. Last month, the company received approval from Singapore authorities to sell lab-grown chicken meat, making it the first in the world to sell meat cultivated from animal cells.
The company expects to engage with Chinese authorities in 2021 to attain regulatory approval for the cell-based food.
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