“When Tesla first started 10 years ago, it didn’t try to target everybody with its cars. But its end goal was that every vehicle should be an electric car. It is very similar to what we are doing. Our end goal is to have Zrou in every kitchen, on every table, and in every mouth. Because it is leading to a future that is sustainable,” says Franklin Yao, founder and CEO of YouKuai Group International, a Chinese plant-based food and beverage startup.
YouKuai is the creator of a plant-based ground pork product called Zrou. The company says that Zrou is the leading plant-based meat brand in China and sources all of its ingredients locally, including non-GMO soybeans from the country’s northeast region.
With the Zrou brand, the company aims to tackle two major challenges of popularizing alternative protein in China: taste and market education.
Similar to Yao’s previous Tesla example, YouKuai is taking a more qualitative approach to handle these challenges. As such, the company is partnering with Michelin-star restaurants as well as premium resorts and renowned chefs to create visually appealing and delicious dishes. The company said it has also built a community of influencers, culinary artists, and other early-adopters who are highly loyal to Zrou and could help organically expand the brand’s influence.
The startup estimates China’s plant-based meat products industry will reach US$50 billion by 2030 at a growth rate of 36%. The market was estimated to be at US$1 billion in 2019, and it has been rising steadily at 13.5% to 15.5% since 2013.
Yesterday, YouKuai announced that it raised US$7.3 million in a series A round of financing led by TRIREC, a Singapore-based investment firm that focuses on supporting decarbonization-related technologies and businesses. It was an early investor in Hungry Planet, a US-based plant-based meat company.
Other investors that participated in YouKuai’s fundraise include Thibault Villet, co-founder and former CEO of Mei.com, an Alibaba-backed luxury flash-sale site, as well as several ultra-high net worth individuals from China and Asia.
This latest fundraise brings YouKuai’s total funding amount to US$8.8 million to date.
The new funds will be used for YouKuai’s expansion plans in China and overseas, partnerships with hotel chains, and the rollout of its ready-to-eat plant-based meat products, which will be created with top chefs and introduced as their signature products.
YouKuai is looking to enter international markets next year. The company is already in talks with distributors in as London, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, New York, Los Angeles, and Milan for the launch of its products.
Founded in 2019, YouKuai aims to create a holistic plant-based food and beverage ecosystem in China and to reshape the global plant-based cuisine landscape, starting with Chinese consumers both locally and regionally.
Currently, YouKuai has teamed up with over 100 outlets across China, including hotels and over 25 international schools and corporate cafeterias, to serve Zrou.
The startup, which counts the Shanghai Disney Resort among its clients, will soon be partnering with a 500-location hotel chain to offer its Zrou products to customers.
YouKuai also wants to expand its team of over 50 experienced Chinese and international professionals, including brand builders, chefs, food scientists, sales, and supply chain team.
Aside from Yao, who was the founder and managing director of US-listed Yext China, YouKuai’s founding team is composed of veterans from various industries. Chief financial officer Liqin Lu is an experienced investment banker who had stints at UBS, Citi, Deutsche Bank, and Credit Suisse. David Laris, YouKuai’s chief creative officer, established fine-dining restaurants Laris and New Heights in Shanghai’s swanky Three on the Bund complex.South Africa Today