Interview: Franklin Yao ​of Z-Rou Meat Talks Plant-Based Pork

By Cristina Ng, February 10, 2020

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There’s a new plant-based brand on the market called Z-Rou Meat 株肉, a pork alternative that consists of 100% plant-based ingredients such as non-GMO soybeans, shitake mushrooms, konjac and coconut oil. You are going to start seeing the innovative item on menus around town, so we caught up with veteran China-based entrepreneur Franklin Yao to learn more about his motivations.

Image courtesy of Z-Rou Meat

Let’s begin with your plant-based journey. How long have you been eating this way?
It began with secular meditation, which helped me to clear my mind and be present in the moment. It also made me more conscious and empathetic. From that starting point, I learned more about Buddhist philosophy and how my decisions affect the world. The teaching is ‘do no harm,’ and I took that as a challenge to ‘do more good.’ 

I began to question what I ate, while making decisions in line with my values. That’s where I’m coming from, not the dogma of being vegan and wanting to convert everyone. If I’m with friends and they are proud of the meat they’ve prepared, I won’t exclude that. But, if I’m making a conscious choice and in control, I prefer plant-based options.

Image courtesy of Z-Rou Meat

How did changing your diet lead to starting this company?
You get to a certain point where you start to think about what you want to do with this life. I have two children, and I want to leave this world in a better place. It is an encouraging trend that the number of vegans globally has grown from 0.25% in 2014 to 1.28% in 2018. 

That is a dramatic transformation, but we can also make a huge difference if we get 10% of meat-eaters to halve their consumption. We think that eating plants is good. It’s healthy, sustainable, humane and safe. That’s why we are introducing a delicious and familiar product that gives people another choice.

“You get to a certain point where you start to think about what you want to do with this life”

How important was it to make Z-Rou delicious?
I think that’s the number one priority. You can’t do more good if you don’t bring the customer in. If I can give you a better product that is yummy and doesn’t feel like a sacrifice, that’s where the power comes from. It was also important to create plant-based ground pork rather than a finished product like a burger or lion’s head meatball, so chefs – and ultimately home consumers – can create dishes.

Why pork?
A big part of the food experience is eating foods that invoke childhood nostalgia. For me, that’s my mom’s zha jiang mian, and this product works really well in that dish. One of our restaurant partners, Canton Table, does an eggplant dish in a clay pot that resonates with a lot of people.

Image courtesy of Z-Rou Meat

Speaking of restaurant partners, where else can we try Z-Rou?
Pie Society has done a great job using it in the ‘Yes, Pecan’ pie, and Canton Table has a tasting set featuring it. It’s been available for a while as a ‘secret menu’ at Cantina Agave, but they are adding it when they reprint their regular menus.

It’s been nice beginning with a small group, so we can get things right ahead of a larger rollout. We are taking things one step at a time, but I think you can expect to see a lot of us over the next few months at leading restaurants and hotels in Shanghai – then throughout China.

For more information on Z-Rou Meat, scan QR code below. 


Read more 'On the Grill'

[Cover image courtesy of Z-Rou Meat 株肉]

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