Bridging Cultural Gaps: Expanding Veganism into New Markets

Last year, I traveled to Seattle a lot for work and couldn’t help but notice all of the “clean eating” and vegan options in this city. When you arrive at SeaTac airport, there’s a restaurant called Floret that makes a delicious vegan coconut cake and Vitamin C kombucha. And in Capitol Hill and Ballard, Frankie & Jo’s serves some of the best ice cream I’ve had and it’s all plant-based. Who would’ve thought? Full disclosure though, I am not vegan by any means, but am fascinated by how accessible and creative vegan meals have become.

Even in countries like China, veganism has been on the rise. According to Euromonitor, China was projected to be the fastest-growing market for vegan products between 2015 and 2020, with a growth rate of 17.2%1. This statistic is surprising because having grown up with home-cooked Chinese food, I’m accustomed to seeing meat on the dinner table. Even if a dish (like this popular eggplant dish) is primarily veggies, it’s often accompanied with minced meat.

Chinese Eggplants with Minced Pork by Elaine from the China Sichuan Food blog

A lot of this has to do with the culture of meat in China. Until the late 1980s, the government tackled food shortages by issuing rations and meat was a rare luxury. Now, with China being a global economic power, meat has become a sign of prosperity. The average Chinese consumer’s access to meat has improved significantly, resulting in China now representing ~28% of the world’s meat consumption2.

So yes, I’m curious about whether the vegan movement has truly taken hold in China. If so, how? And how can entrepreneurs who are passionate about plant-based foods capitalize on this?

KNOW YOUR CUSTOMER:

Only ~4% of the Chinese population (50 million people) are vegetarian, but the average Chinese consumer is becoming more health-conscious and receptive to plant-based diets3. This, along with concerns for the environment and animal welfare (primarily spurred by younger generations), have led to a greater momentum for China’s vegan movement.

  • A 2018 survey by the New Zealand Institute of Plant and Food Research indicated that 38% of respondents in China’s Tier 1 cities said they’d switch to meat substitutes that are “low in fat”, “additive-free”, and “high in protein”4
  • In addition, the main reasons for reducing meat consumption were perceived health benefits (64%) and managing personal weight (57%)3
  • 73% have also indicated they’d pay extra for food that is deemed healthier5

KNOW THE MARKET & COMPETITION:

Restaurant owners are also adjusting menus to reflect the meat-free trend. Happy Cow (an online service that lists sources of vegan, vegetarian and healthy food) shows 1,328 restaurants in China that are either completely vegan, completely vegetarian, or serve vegan/vegetarian options. While most of these are in the more populated Tier 1 cities, such as Shanghai (126) and Beijing (99), a handful of other cities (Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Hangzhou) are catching up on the trend. The food served at these restaurants suit the Western palette, but the combination of flavors are still local and authentic – scallion pancakes, tofu-based soups, bokchoy and bean curd-based dumplings, mushroom wontons, vegetarian hotpot with greens and mock meat, and dishes made with pumpkin, eggplant, green beans? Yum!

KNOW YOUR BRAND AND HOW TO POSITION IT:

Messaging and the food itself, especially what’s in it and how you tailor it to meet “local” expectations, matters!

  • Acknowledge regional differences. Consumers in Tier 1 cities have not only higher disposable income, but they’re also quick to adopt healthy lifestyles and foreign brands. That being said, Tier 2 cities, such as Hangzhou (home to Alibaba) and Tianjin (major port city not too far from Beijing), are not as saturated and could also be good places for your next vegan venture.
  • Use e-commerce platforms and partnerships to generate brand awareness. Chinese consumers are avid users of social media platforms (i.e., WeChat, Weibo and QQ) and engaging with them on these channels can boost your brand.
  • Consider partnerships with established chains to solidify your footprint. As a first step, Beyond Meat struck a partnership with Starbucks, which has more than 4,300 stores across China6.
  • Adapt and localize your menu. Catering to customers in new markets is important and there are ways to do it while staying true to your values and branding. For instance, instead of burgers, Zhenmeat (a plant-based meat startup based in Beijing) makes local dishes, such as dumplings, meatball, and crayfish7,8. They also understand that many Chinese consumers prefer to eat meat off the bone and have even started using 3-D printers that create protein alternatives containing bones and other structural elements9. Now that’s taking cultural understanding to another level!

Sources: [1] Daxue Consulting, [2] World Economic Forum, [3] China Briefing, [4] Plant and Food, [5] China Briefing, [6] CNet, [7] East West Bank, [8] CNBC, [9] New York Times

Navigating the Coronavirus Era

Navigating the Coronavirus Era

I’ll have to be honest. When I first heard about the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in Wuhan in January, I didn’t think it would escalate and result in countries around the world scrambling for a way to mitigate the spread. Being “far away” from the epicenter made me feel disconnected and a part of me felt hopeful that COVID-19 could be contained before getting out of hand. After all, we’ve made it through SARS back in 2003 and MERS in 2012, both of which had higher fatality rates. But things are different from back then. We’re dealing with a different virus and in this day and age, “far away” isn’t really far away. As much as we benefit from globalization, we’re also feeling its full effect through COVID-19’s rapid spread, the deep interdependence between major economies, and how vulnerable we all are to unexpected shocks.

Right now, what we’re living through feels like something out of a movie, but at least we are all in it together.

Across the country, major cities including San Francisco, New York City and Seattle have issued stay-at-home orders to “flatten the curve” and slow the spread of the virus. Schools and all non-essential businesses have been asked to close. Major events, such as SXSW, have been cancelled, and almost everyone I know is working from home.

San Francisco, where I currently live, was the first to order a shelter-in-place almost 2 weeks ago. What this means is I’m barred from gathering outside, but I can leave the house for “essential activities”, such as grocery shopping and going to the doctor. Most restaurants in my neighborhood have closed their doors, but a few have kept their delivery and takeout services up and running. People can also walk and exercise outside in public spaces, as long as they stay 6 feet away from others.

These measures are imperative for the health and safety of our nation, although devastating for our economy. This week’s uptick after the signing of a historic $2T stimulus package does not make up for the fact that the stock market has wiped out nearly 3 years of gains. Small businesses, the airline and hospitality industries are all suffering major losses and that extends downstream to the now 3 million+ workers whose jobs have been cut. My roommate, a marketing manager at a local restaurant chain, recently received an email regarding employment termination if the doors do not reopen by April 7th.

So yes, COVID-19 is very real and it can get personal. Even if it hasn’t turned your world upside down just yet, it is leaving people without an income and ability to provide for themselves and their families.

So please, let’s all do our part by following the social distancing guidelines, staying at home, and limiting the time outside to truly essential activities. With COVID-19’s incubation being anywhere from 2 to 14 days, we can be asymptomatic for a while and spread the virus to others without knowing. This community spread is what puts our healthcare system at risk. There are simply not enough beds, ICUs, ventilators for everyone and having to choose between which sick patient should receive care, is the last thing we want to do.

For those in the less-vulnerable category who underestimate the virus and call it “just another flu” (yes, I’m looking at you springbreakers), now’s the time to get serious. Staying at home is a small sacrifice compared to what our seniors and elderly have gone through (e.g., serving our country during World War II) or what our medical workers are doing each day to save lives. I know we’re all coping and adjusting to life under quarantine, but.. hey, we’re all in this together!

How are all of you doing during this time?

I’ll be checking in every now and then to post updates from SF, but until then, please stay safe and healthy!

How AI can help you get into the best shape of your life!

How AI can help you get into the best shape of your life!

I have less than a month before my trips to London, Hawaii and China! With that in mind, I’ve been searching for the right diet and workout plan. I don’t have a personal trainer, but thought I couldn’t go wrong with the 2-pound rule from this LiveStrong article. To lose 2 pounds a week, I would cut out 1000 calories per day 1. Assuming I stick to a 1200-calorie diet (which has been a challenge because I LOVE FOOD) and normally burn 2000 calories per day without doing much, all I’d need to do is burn an additional 200 calories each day through exercise. Seems simple enough, but it’s been 2 weeks of on-and-off barre, yoga, spinning and 30-min treadmill sessions. And I still weigh the same! Of course, body weight is just one measure and doesn’t account for progress in the form of reduction in body-fat percentage and overall fitness level. However, what I’ve noticed is, I’ve had to take a couple of breaks. I didn’t work out much before this summer and experienced a lot of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). The group classes I took had good instruction and helped me stay motivated, but they were not tailored for someone who needs to step it up gradually. I know I’m not alone in my desire for individualized workout plans. Research shows that depending on one’s fitness level, body composition and medical restraints, there are specific routines that would be more effective in reaching his or her goals. Nevertheless, the cost of a personal trainer is still very high. Hence, that’s why an AI-driven solution that provides customized workout plans is useful for anyone interested in becoming fit.

The Little Big Idea:

Smart Scale and integrated web/mobile application that: (a) tracks users’ progress against their health and fitness goals and (b) leverages their workout history and research from physiotherapists and sports scientists to curate exercise routines that are personalized and highly effective. It does this through an algorithm that predicts, day by day, the type, intensity and duration of physical activity that would help users reach their desired outcome. These predictions will be based on both users’ live performance metrics (e.g. weekly BMI & weight loss, gains in flexibility, muscular endurance, etc.) and insights generated from crowdsourced data collected through the app. Essentially, the more people who train with the app, the more it actively learns from users’ experience, what works and what doesn’t. The application should do the following:

  • Perform an initial physical assessment on users and recommending a starting point. New users are asked to fill out a questionnaire about their medical history, diet, hobbies, barriers to exercise and goals 2. In addition, a series of tests that measure endurance, strength, flexibility and speed will be conducted to assess the user’s fitness level 4. So, whether you’re ready to do squats with 125 pounds or something more low-impact, like a 20-min elliptical interval workout, the app will figure it out!
  • Provide workout videos that you can try out either at home or at the gym. This will be dependent upon your preferences and information from the initial assessment.
  • Introduce additional variety and challenge to help users reinforce strengths, work on deficiencies and avoid injury 3.
  • Adjust workouts to take into account schedule changes as you go along.
  • Correct a user’s positioning. For staple workout exercises, such as squats and planks, the app will provide live feedback to ensure that your form is correct. Through the camera, it compares where your joints, arms and legs are, along with the angles they create, to the “perfect” form 5.

Are there similar ideas out there for you to check out?

  • Freeletics is a fitness app that assigns a personal training plan to each user. It recently integrated AI into its Bodyweight Coach feature, which now provides interval workouts that tackle specific areas of the body more effectively 6, 7, 8.
  • Sworkit guides its users of all levels – from beginner to advanced – through video workouts that can be done at home in as little as 5-15 minutes. The user can customize these workouts to focus on specific areas of the body, workout type, difficulty, etc. In addition, a real, personal trainer is also available to answer questions and help you choose the right workout 9.
  • Perfect Squat Challenge (by Kaia Health) uses AI-powered motion tracking and correction technology to help users perfect their squat. It does this by gauging the relative positions of limbs and joints and the angles between them, comparing them with what physiotherapists would describe as the “ideal” squat. While the technology is very impressive, the app is limited to squats, but has the potential to help users attune to more exercises 10.

So what do you guys think? Any recommendations and suggestions for a workout plan are also welcome!

Sources:

1 https://www.livestrong.com/article/266078-how-many-calories-do-i-need-to-lose-2-pounds-per-week/

2 https://www.livestrong.com/article/338717-fitness-assessment-for-personal-training-services/

3 https://www.wholelifechallenge.com/how-to-design-your-own-workout-program-a-guide-for-beginners/

4 https://www.sportsscience.co/sport/top-11-fitness-metrics-gauge-your-fitness-level/

5 https://appdevelopermagazine.com/ai-powered-fitness-app-helps-users-perfect-their-squats/

6 https://www.insidehook.com/nation/freeletics-ai-workout-app

7 https://www.healthista.com/fitness-app-powered-ai-gives-workout-programme/

8 https://www.freeletics.com/en/press/wp-content/uploads/sites/24/2015/02/Press-Release_Bodyweight-Update.pdf

9 https://sworkit.com/pricing

10 https://www.engadget.com/2018/06/27/the-perfect-squat-app-ai-trainer/