Interview with Joana Saavedra, FB Solution

"It is especially important to have a good reputation if you want to be successful"

FB Solution has been a key actor of the F&B industry in Greater China since 2008. Supplier of bakery and pastry solutions for Chefs and F&B professionals for more than a decade, FB Solution is now taking advantage of its strong connections to answer a growing need of theirs: plant-based and gluten free alternatives to widely consumed products – whose demand is fast rising.

Joana Saavedra – in charge of Business Development and International Sales Manager at FB Solution – has cumulated 10 years of experience (mainly in the F&B sector) across Europe, Latin America and more recently China. Initiating and leading FB Solution’s progressive shift towards plant-based and gluten-free products, she analyzes for us the key success factors of this emerging market.

What is FB Solutions? Can you give a short history of the company?

FB Solution has been a key actor of the bakery industry in Greater China since 2008, we support chefs and F&B professionals in their daily activities. Answering their bakery and pastry needs, we bring them ready-to-bake and ready-to-serve solutions from France, Germany, Belgium, New Zealand, always with the highest quality and food safety standards in mind.
Witnessing the world-wide environmental wakeup call and aware of the responsibility the F&B industry bears, we believe we have our own role to play in it. Tightly connected with Greater China’s F&B key players and working daily with them, we want to support them in offering suitable alternatives to end-consumers.
The « conscious » collection that we are preparing features products in line with the needs of more and more F&B actors. From plant-based to gluten-free, we selected products suitable for clients with specific needs: whether it is about environmental awareness or ingredient sensitivity.

Could you briefly introduce yourself?

Business Development and International Sales Manager with experience designing, leading and implementing a broad range of corporate growth and realignment initiatives mainly in F&B sector.
With over 10 years of experience with focus in China, Europe and Latin America markets, I have been living in Beijing for the past 5 years and working as Sales & Marketing Manager China for FB Solution since 2016.
I am an enthusiast about emerging plant-based brands and bamboo as sustainable material.
It feels almost unreal to be able to dedicate part of my time to something that I am so deeply passionate about. I feel thankful for the opportunity and humbled by the thought that what we are building can be a platform for others to feel inspired to make conscious food choices.

What kind of developments are you noticing in the gluten free and vegan market in Asia?

Global consumer tastes are changing, people are learning more about sustainability, and options are becoming more innovative when it comes to plant-based food. The demand for plant-based food due to religious, cultural and ethnic reasons has always been here and vegetarianism is not exactly a new thing in Asia with countries such as China, Japan, South Korea, Thailand and Malaysia having a huge Buddhist population.

While China’s openness to novel foods, its tradition of consuming mock meat, and government efforts to reduce meat consumption shows that the country is in a good position to take advantage of newly developed plant-based meat alternatives. The same is not happening with the same speed for the gluten-free market development. Despite China's increasing bread consumption and growing awareness for allergies in recent years, local entrepreneurs, brands and distributors in the gluten-free scene have struggled to win over the culinary-conscious Chinese.

In the last few years, China and other Asian countries, have seen the growth of vegan restaurants. Chinese, especially the younger, population are slowly opening up to alternate sources of plant-based proteins and following an environmentally-friendly diet. On the F&B scene we see an increase interest on the different HORECA channels regarding the plant-based proteins with international hotel chains, catering companies and coffee shop chains starting to introduce plant-based dishes on their menus. However, all these channels need a lot of support on how to introduce and educate about this novel food to their final consumers.
U.S. plant-based brands like Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat Inc, Hungry Planet and JUST are targeting China but will need to battle homegrown rivals which are developing local favorites such as dumplings and mooncakes among other final products.
Among the new players are names like Omnipork, Zhenmeat and Z-Rou, while long-time plant-based companies including Whole Perfect Food are launching new products.

How can European brands looking to export to Asia prepare and what should they look [out] for?

European brands should look to market to meat eaters more than vegetarians and pay special attention to the price, flavor and convenience.
The vegan market is expected to rise and the Coronavirus outbreak will only accelerate this growth. This move will follow a huge shift in consumer habits in Asia.
In China, it is especially important to have a good reputation if you want to be successful. The brand, the product needs to have a history, needs to be trendy. Consumers will want to buy your products not only because it is good for their health but also because friends or family recommend it. Consequently, if you want to be distinctive you should plan a good social media strategy on Wechat and Weibo.

A few take-aways for international companies who want to enter the market of vegan food in China:

- Differentiation on the type of products to offer, taking in consideration the local food habits and flavors
- China has a long history of imitating meat with plant-based ingredients. Consumers are familiar with many kinds of vegetarian dishes which taste and look like meat or other animal products.
- Concerns about animal rights and environmental impacts, as well as the vegan movement in China, are still at the early stage in China. For the mass consumers, purchasing vegetarian food in China is more about a healthy diet.
- Adapting the marketing strategies and have an onsite team and especially a chef to recreate dishes with local flavors and educate the market.
- Partner with a local distributor with the same mindset about the plant-based world. If your local partner doesn’t understand the brand and product you will not be able to reach and target the right consumers and create brand awareness in the market.
- Environmental pollution and food safety have been crucial issues in China; imported products are often considered more nutritious and safer due to stricter quality control.
- When developing a new product take in consideration the importation restrictions in China (Asia) as usually few products can’t be imported due to ingredients restrictions.
- Plan a localized production in Asia on a mid-term.

FB Solution Hongkong, Joana Saavedra, Key importer and distributor in Asia