“We see much more explosive growth” – Green Monday Group CEO David Yeung talks Asia plant-based meat firm’s prospects
Covid and supply-chain pressures made 2021 challenging but Green Monday Group CEO David Yeung tells Dean Best he’s upbeat about the year ahead.
reen Monday Group is one of the up-and-coming firms at the vanguard of the early-stage markets for plant-based meat in Asia. The company, set up in 2012, markets products in more than 20 countries, with its largest markets in Hong Kong and Singapore.
The business, headed by founder David Yeung, has taken its Omni brand further afield to markets including the US and the UK. Despite some stiff trading challenges in recent months, Green Monday and Yeung have plans for further growth, which he discussed with Just Food in an interview before Christmas.
Just Food: How has the pandemic affected Green Monday Group’s growth plans?
Number one, I think as a whole the pandemic no doubt has heightened awareness of ESG and how vulnerable the planet and humanity are. In terms of day-to-day, practically running the business, the whole world is in a nightmare situation.
Anything related to the supply chain, it’s, like, 27 perfect storms in one. All the things you normally can just count on and take for granted – whether it’s shipments, freight charges, energy, travelling, labour, you name them – anything that can go wrong, has gone wrong.
Freight charges, truck drivers, you name them. It is putting the whole global supply chain in utter chaos. In the case of us, as far as Asia is concerned, for many of the Asian countries, particularly south-east Asia, the Delta variant is the one that really is causing disruption. Last year, many of the Asian countries were in relatively good shape but the Delta variant has just disrupted everything.
On a macro level, no doubt on ESG, overall awareness has improved. Day-to-day, for any business on the planet, I would say 80-90% of the companies have been severely disrupted, whether that’s Nike, Ikea, or food companies such as us.
What are the biggest pinch points for you at the moment as we speak?
It’s still Covid as of this moment. For example, travelling is still extremely difficult. Honestly, I can argue in many ways that this year is actually worse than last year.
Is your planned new plant in Guangdong now open and producing?
Not yet. There’s a slight delay. Thankfully, it’s not a major delay. Even within China, there were various stoppages and semi-lockdowns in some cities. Then, of course, the most recent one wreaking havoc around China is the power outage. That has affected two-thirds of provinces.
The factory in Thailand is your only plant at the moment. Another plan was to have a factory in Taiwan, too.
Of course, we have not been able to travel at all, so that is inevitably delayed. In most countries with vaccines we thought that sometime around Q3 of this year, or maybe the latest Q4, we should be resuming some kind of normalcy, whether that means travel, reopening borders but there’s still no end in sight. So yes, Taiwan, inevitably will be slightly delayed, although the plan hasn’t changed.
In terms of the number of markets, we are now in over 20 markets globally. Not to pat ourselves on the shoulder but to overcome a million obstacles to still achieve that this year is remarkable because the global supply chain has made trading ridiculously difficult.
Number two, I think equally important, is we’ve just announced our Omni Seafood line. We are basically doubling our lines. We have the alternative pork series and now we have the alternative seafood. There isn’t any particular leader in plant-based alternative seafood. In the US, plant-based seafood is still less than 1% of plant-based protein overall. It's tiny. We see mega opportunity there, within Asia and globally.
In which markets are the seafood products being sold or about to be launched?
The UK is going to be one of the first. Hong Kong and Singapore are our immediate markets that we have obviously a strong foothold in. I would say within the first half of next year, hopefully with minimal disruption because of supply chain and logistics, seafood will be in most of the markets OmniPork is in.
It’s been interesting to see Green Monday target the UK and the US with its OmniPork range of products. These are two very competitive markets for alternative protein. How can the Omni brand compete?
I think we have a very clear positioning. For example, we have OmniPork luncheon, vegan spam, and that product is unique. There aren’t any prominent plant-based spam or luncheon-meat products out there. With seafood, as I said earlier, there is no clear leader in the space.
Number two, we love – because of who we are and where we originate – to target Asian cuisines. Our products can be used universally but they also work particularly well with all sorts of Asian cuisine. That is a gigantic whitespace right there. We are based here, so, from a local market knowledge and consumer insight standpoint, just the fact we are Asians I would know what people here eat better than non-locals.
OmniPork Luncheon Meat
Credit: OmniPork / Facebook
What are you forecasting your revenues to be in 2021 and in 2022?
We’re not yet in the position that we need to disclose, so that's not something that we will share. However, we believe next year, as the world hopefully resumes to more of a normal, pre-Covid world that, first and foremost, general activities will pick up in a huge way and then, two, I think that will coincide with our growth as well – our growth meaning of our company and also the industry as a whole.
Every year I think the market is going through explosive growth but, this year, there’s no doubt the supply chain has affected most companies – and that’s beyond plant-based. I'm talking about all companies. We see much more explosive growth next year because so many of the things have been delayed or pushed back that we’ve thought should have happened six months ago.
Will there be new markets you’re looking to enter next year?
No, I think we need to deepen those 20. Entering is good but now it’s about much deeper penetration and launching more products. Having two SKUs is good but, ultimately, we have maybe seven, eight, ten SKUs we think would fit those markets. The other one is foodservice. Of course, foodservice in many countries has just been wipe-out. People cannot go out. Some restaurants have simply not been able to open at all for months. So, foodservice is going to be another key driver because, this year, for most brands in general, foodservice sales are going to be much less than whatever they originally expected because of all kinds of lockdowns.
Obviously you’ve got your own restaurants but is your Omni business principally a retail-focused business or, before the pandemic, were you already selling into foodservice?
I’ve always been selling into foodservice – McDonald’s, Starbucks, Ikea. Going through on-and-off lockdowns, ultimately it’s been a very unpredictable foodservice environment, so retail is the staple, especially during the last 18, 20 months when people had to stay in at home much more. Retail is the driver but, for 2022, foodservice will have a major bounce back as people start to go back to the office and things like that.
Asia, we are still at a super-nascent stage. Super, super nascent
Describe the plant-based market in your key Asian countries. There are decades-long traditions of vegetarian foods and vegetarian meats and seafood products but we’re now seeing version 2.0 starting to attract consumers.
Generally speaking, the Asian awareness of this topic has been slightly behind North America and Europe, for example. Whether that gap is two, three, four years, in the next one to two years, there should be some major catching up. Even though plant-based products existed before, they were clearly not to the quality and the variety we offer today. There will be explosive growth in different regions. However, I think the point that I must emphasise most is going to be about localisation. People in Manchester and London don’t eat completely the same. People in New York and people in New Orleans don’t eat the same. With Asia, who can truly find that key to open that most important door to unlock the markets? That is going to be critical.
When it comes to climate change, when it comes to food insecurity, actually Asia probably has the biggest urgency because we have the most people to feed. It could be the 1.4 billion population in China or the 5m-plus Singaporeans in a relatively tiny city-state. How to feed the population and be more self-sufficient are questions that are going to drive some top-down policy or guidelines and, when that happens, that is when the floodgates will open. Ultimately, as much as we are doing things bottom-up, we need top-down influence. Just like with EV or solar energy, governments need to be a part of that.
What kind of investment do you need to continue to fuel your growth?
The last round of funding was fall last year when we announced US$70m. We actually have since attracted more but, in order to grow at the pace many of these companies – including ourselves – are expanding, capital is one type of resource. More importantly, it’s always about synergy, about how internal and external partners can help speed things up even more.
And every country, as I said, is different. Japan, for example, is a very, very difficult country to get into because of import regulations, food labelling. Having not just investors but partners who can somehow share that load or expertise, or have an on-the-ground presence, would make a world of difference. When we look for investors, or partners in general, it’s much more than just capital.
Have you had any corporate interest in the business?
I obviously cannot disclose but, indeed, there are such companies who -- and I'm sure they’re not just approaching us. They’re talking to many brands as well but no doubt we have -- because for them, on the one hand, if someone is already doing it and has a pretty established track record, why not right? It can shorten the time for them to enter the market, which they see now as something they cannot miss.
Another reason is also about the authenticity of a brand. Whatever company they are, they cannot just say 'Tomorrow, we are doing plant-based food,’ jumping onto the bandwagon. Consumers would want to see a more authentic kind of intention and, besides, the product, of course, needs to be good. Nowadays, millennials, Gen Z customers – and just customers in general – want that degree of authenticity and transparency.
What do you make of companies like Nestlé investing heavily in plant-based protein, including seafood?
There are two ways to look at it. One is it helps further reinforce the fact this is the future. They are investing time, resources and manpower and, indeed, the CEO has been very explicit – not just their CEO – but many CEOs have been very explicit to say food sustainability, how to feed the world by 2030, is top on their agenda.
Then, from a market landscape standpoint, it does obviously bring more players. When the space goes from previously relatively few players and not as crowded to the future landscape – whether it is a food conglomerate, such as the one you mentioned, or start-ups getting big funding from investors – how that field will play is going to be quite interesting.
But one thing about food is it is a very fragmented market. Unlike many other industries, where normally you have one, two, maybe a maximum of three leaders, food actually doesn’t work like that. Of course, we all know brands like Coca-Cola dominate the world, right? There’s also a lot of room for local players. In the case of China, even if we just talked about mainland China alone, come on, that's a 1.4bn population market. The number of players that could be in mainland China alone, there is obviously room for more than 20 players or whatever because the markets are so big.