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Unlocking the potential of plant-based diets in China

Learn how to boost your plant-based food and beverage sales in China with our latest report

Education is the key to the adoption of plant-based diets. This is the key takeaway from a survey of over 1,000 Chinese consumers commissioned by ProVeg Asia, which found that once consumers learn about the benefits of eating more plant-based foods, almost all are willing to do so.

The research has been used to fuel ProVeg Asia’s latest report, Plant-based eating in China: attitudes and opportunities, which examines the extent to which Chinese people have embraced plant-based food.

Specifically, the report investigates how willing Chinese people are to eat more plant-based foods after being informed of the health and environmental benefits, as supported by peer-reviewed studies in international scientific journals. 

This invaluable guide also ranks the benefits provided by plant-based diets in terms of their perceived significance and identifies motivations and barriers to plant-based eating. It’s a vital resource for stakeholders in the plant-based food and beverage industry looking to boost their sales in China.

In this article, we’ll summarize the report’s main findings and bring you ProVeg Asia’s key recommendations.

Study background 

When did the study take place?

ProVeg commissioned an independent research company, Kantar, to conduct the survey between April and May 2024. 

Who were the respondents?

1,000 consumers living in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, China. The consumers represented four equally distributed age ranges: 18-24, 25-34, 35-44, and 45-60. 

Source: Pexels/ Pixabay

What were they asked?

Each respondent was asked to respond to 15 statements (highlighting the health, environment, animal protection, food security, and taste advantages of plant-based diets) with the option to ‘strongly agree’, ‘agree’, ‘disagree’ or ‘completely disagree’ with each statement.

The 15 statements included the following facts:

  • A balanced plant-based diet can help to prevent and manage type 2 diabetes.
  • Plant-based diets can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 50%.
  • The healthiest and most sustainable diets are predominantly comprised of plant-based foods. 
  • Plant-based diets lower the risk of developing antibiotic resistance.

The respondents were then shown supporting research and asked to answer to what extent they intend to add more plant-based food to their current diet or whether they would try a plant-based diet. They were asked to respond with one of five remarks: ‘very willing’, ‘willing’, ‘average’, ‘relatively unwilling’, or ‘not at all’.

Respondents were then asked which five statements were most persuasive in getting them to add more plant-based foods to their current diet or try a plant-based diet.  


Consumer awareness of plant-based diets and willingness to change 

Much must be done to educate Chinese consumers about the health and environmental benefits of a plant-based diet.  

When asked whether participants agreed or disagreed with the 15 benefit statements, the average level of agreement with all the benefits was only 49%. 

However, after being shown the supporting scientific source material, 98% of respondents were either ‘strongly willing’ or ‘willing’ to add more plant-based food to their diet.

plant-based diets in China
Source: Pexels/ Mart Production

Those who said they were ‘strongly willing’ to change their diets totalled 57%, representing an encouraging proportion of respondents who are open to embracing more plant-based foods. Perhaps unsurprisingly, 64% of flexitarians said they were ‘strongly willing’ to incorporate more plant-based foods into their diets. 

Even the majority of omnivores (54%) said they were ‘strongly willing’ to make changes in their diet, after hearing about the benefits of plant-based food, which is particularly encouraging. 

These results suggest that not just flexitarians but even those on a more ‘mainstream’, meat-based diet could be nudged towards a more plant-based diet.

This new research indicates that education is the key to generating a mass dietary shift. Once our respondents learned about the benefits of adopting more plant-based diets, they were willing to change their eating habits. 

“We found that most people are concerned about eating healthy food and that once they learn just how healthy and climate-friendly plant-based food is, they intend to eat a lot more of it.”

Shirley Lu

Managing Director and Asia & China Representative at ProVeg Asia.


Actionable insight: Education (through product labeling, marketing, social media, campaigns, or other initiatives) is an effective way to encourage consumers to increase their consumption of plant-based foods. 

Health and nutrition

Health and nutrition were the factors related to plant-based food that Chinese consumers agreed most strongly with. 

For example, 56% of people surveyed agreed that plant-based diets tend to lower body mass index (BMI) and reduce obesity rates, thereby lowering rates of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. There was higher agreement among 45-60-year-olds, with 63% agreeing with this statement.

Similarly, 51% of people agreed with the statement that iron deficiency can be avoided by consuming iron-rich plant foods in combination with fruit and vegetables high in Vitamin C.

Actionable insight: Amplifying the health benefits of plant-based foods, particularly when targeting older people and flexitarians is an effective way of increasing sales of established and new plant-based products.


Greater education on the ecological benefits of moving away from meat consumption is required.

Only 49% agreed that the production of plant-based foods is more efficient than animal agriculture in terms of use of resources, energy generation, land use, and water use. 

Source: Unsplash/Roman Synkevych

Similarly, just 42% of respondents agreed that animal agriculture is responsible for up to 20% of greenhouse gas emissions and that plant-based foods emit half the amount of greenhouse gas emissions.1

Actionable insight: Using labeling on product packaging or related promotional materials can highlight the environmental benefits of plant-based eating, citing scientific sources to boost credibility.

Persuading consumers

Top triggers and barriers to consuming more plant-based foods

In the survey, participants were presented with various factors to identify what would most motivate or prevent them from adding more plant-based foods to their current diet.

Motivating factors

The health benefits of plant-based diets emerged as the most common motivating factor, with 46% of respondents citing ‘healthy’ as their reason for adding more plant-based foods or trying a plant-rich diet. This motivation was particularly strong among the 45-60-year-old category, with 58% agreement. Nutritional reasons, another health-related factor, were the second-most motivating factor, with 39% of respondents providing ‘nutritious’ as their answer.

In third place was ‘safer food,’ which 35% of people agreed with, indicating trust in plant-based foods over animal-based foods. This was followed by ‘fresher ingredients,’ with 30% of respondents agreeing. Although only 24% of people cited the environmental benefits of plant-based food as a reason for increasing their consumption, this reason had higher agreement (35%) among those with a monthly household income (MHI) of more than CNY 40k (USD 5,500).

Inhibiting factors

Conversely, 36% of respondents believed that ‘ingredients not being fresh enough’ would prevent them from buying plant-based food. ‘Not tasty enough’ was the second barrier, with 31% of respondents selecting this answer. Concerns about whether plant-based foods meet nutritional requirements ranked third, with 30% of respondents indicating this as a barrier. This was followed by the factor of plant-based foods being ‘not easy to cook,’ cited by 23% of respondents.

Actionable insight: To overcome these barriers, plant-based companies in China should ensure their offerings are made from fresh and nutritious ingredients. Additionally, marketing efforts should highlight the variety of easy-to-cook and delicious recipes that can be prepared with plant-based ingredients.

Profiles: who to target when marketing plant-based foods 

Targeting the right demographic is vital. The survey also identifies key demographic aspects that will help to build profiles of consumers who are most likely to buy more plant-based foods. We’ve summarized the findings below:

Key demographics for targeting:


  • Women (59%) are more willing to change their diet than men (41%).


  • Willingness to change is similar across all age ranges (24%-27%), with the oldest group (40-60 years) at 27%.

Geographical Location:

  • There’s a higher willingness in Shanghai and Guangzhou (35%) compared to Beijing (30%).


  • The lowest income group (CNY 15k-25k) shows the highest willingness to shift (29%).
  • The highest income group (CNY 40k+) shows the least willingness (16%).

Dietary Preferences:

  • Flexitarians (64%) and omnivores (54%) show a strong willingness to switch to plant-based foods.

Interests and Activities:

  • Online video watchers (54%) are more willing to buy more plant-based foods than those who play chess (8%).
  • Outdoor sports enthusiasts (42%) and those who enjoy reading (36%) or listening to podcasts (34%) show significant willingness.
  • People who enjoy green foods, especially dark leafy greens, are more eco-friendly and prioritize a balanced diet.

Information Sources:

  • Social media is the most popular platform for accessing healthy diet information.
  • Users of Xiaohongshu and Weibo are particularly willing to move to more plant-based diets.

Conclusion – opportunities and recommendations 

ProVeg Asia’s report shows a high potential for promoting plant-based diets in China and, at the same time, a clear need to increase awareness of its benefits – only 49% of respondents were aware of the benefits of plant-based diets for people’s health and the environment.

However, once they were informed about the benefits, based on the 15 statements presented to consumers, 98% of respondents were willing to add more plant-based food to their diet, with 64% of flexitarians strongly willing to do so.

plant-based diets in China
Source: Unsplash/M Pham

Health and nutrition were the factors related to plant-based food that Chinese consumers agreed with most strongly and were also most motivated by to move to a more plant-based diet. Food and beverage companies targeting the Chinese market should emphasize the health benefits of plant-based alternatives. This is by far the strongest opportunity for increased sales.

When profiling consumers, the data in this report allows food and beverage companies to build a clearer picture of Chinese consumers who potentially have high purchase intentions for plant-based food. The data shows that: 

  • There is greater potential to target people in the southern cities of Shanghai and Guangzhou, where people show a stronger willingness to try plant-based products.
  • Those with a lower monthly household income (CNY 15k-25k or US$2k-3.5k) show greater willingness to adopt a plant-based diet, compared to higher earners. 
  • Flexitarians are more likely to transition to a plant-based diet. 

Actionable insights

Based on the results of the survey, ProVeg recommends the following actions to motivate people in China to move to a plant-based diet or eat more plant-based foods: 

Invest in consumer education: Support consumer education initiatives to raise awareness about the nutritional benefits of plant-based meat alternatives, and boost knowledge of nutrition and food processing. Use your business and products to guide consumers to make healthier eating choices. 

Focus on taste and nutrition: To address consumers’ concerns about health, taste, and freshness, it is highly recommended that manufacturers focus on nutritional value and flavor when it comes to messaging. Meat alternatives should provide similar nutritional profiles to traditional, animal-based meat products, with nutritional content listed on all food packaging. Businesses should continue to invest in R&D to develop healthier and tastier plant-based meat alternatives.

Push healthy marketing campaigns: Clear marketing campaigns and strategies highlighting the nutritional value of fresh produce and plant-based meat and dairy substitutes are a powerful way to attract more plant-based eaters. 

Utilize social media: Social media is highly recommended as a marketing channel, as it is one of the most effective ways to promote health and plant-based messages.

Provide nutritional transparency: Nutritional transparency is necessary to counter the widely held misconceptions about plant-based food. Brands should ensure all products are labeled with accessible information while providing more thorough ingredient information on brand websites.

By considering ProVeg China’s recommendations, manufacturers can drive greater consumer awareness, promote healthy plant-based food innovation and trade, and boost the sales of sustainable alternative-protein products. 

“China boasts a rich heritage of plant-based diets and a wealth of healthy plant ingredients, Government agencies, educational institutions, and plant-based food businesses can leverage the results of this study to educate consumers about the benefits and positive impacts of plant-based diets. By highlighting the health, environmental, and culinary advantages, we can collectively work towards transforming our food system to one that is beneficial for humans, plants, and animals alike.”

Shirley Lu

Managing Director of ProVeg Asia

Find out more about plant-based diets in China by reading the full report, here. For more support on your plant-based strategy, get in touch with our expert team at [email protected]


  1. Xu, X., P. Sharma, S. Shu, et al. (2021): Global greenhouse gas emissions from animal-based foods are twice those of plant-based foods. Nature Food 2(9), 724–732. doi:10.1038/s43016-021-00358-x

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