- David Yeung, the founder of Green Monday, was named The World Economic Forum's Social Entrepreneur.
- In September, he raised $70 million in funding – the biggest in its field in Asia.
- His social venture group runs the meat-free campaign Green Monday and plant-based Green Common stores-cum-cafes.
- See more stories on Insider's business page.
David Yeung is a force of nature.
If you live in Asia, it's likely you've eaten one of the Beyond Burgers that he debuted in his restaurants, shopped in one of his plant-only supermarkets, or gone meat-free for the day because of his Mary McCartney-backed campaign.
Even if you're a die-hard carnivore, you've probably heard of his company, Green Monday, which started as a social venture with five employees in Hong Kong in 2012. It has now grown into a global plant-based meat company that employs more than 500 people and has expanded to China, Australia, and the UK.
In 2018, Yeung was named a World Economic Forum Social Entrepreneur of the Year. In September 2020, he raised a record-breaking $70 million in funding. In December, he launched his first international store. And in March 2021, he signed a contract with McDonald's in China in to serve his plant-based pork OmniMeat in three major cities.
Even so, the softly spoken Columbia graduate, who grew up in Hong Kong, doesn't seem to have let success go to his head. But Yeung, 45, thinks big.
On a recent phone call with Insider, Yeung detailed how he intends to tackle climate change, global food insecurity, and public health issues - all by selling plant-based meat.
Bringing plant-based meat to Asia
From the beginning, Yeung knew he wanted to create a plant-based pork and launch a concept store that would showcase plant-based foods. In 2012, he launched Green Monday as a campaign that encouraged Hong Kongers to go meat-free one day each week. At the time, he said, the plant-based food industry was "non-existent."
"People call us pioneers now, but we looked more like aliens then," Yeung, who himself is vegan, told Insider.
Yeung was an early investor in California brand Beyond Meat. When Yeung met Beyond Meat CEO Ethan Brown, the plant-based meat company, which makes faux beef from mung beans, pea protein, and coconut oil, had not yet launched in the USA or Asia. The first time Yeung saw a Beyond Burger it was on a PowerPoint slide. Yeung worked with the brand to bring it to Asia in 2017 and showcased it in his Green Common restaurant-cum-supermarket store.
"In Taiwan and China there had been mock meat, but they were not fooling or impressing any meat eater," Yeung said. "The Beyond Burger was a watershed moment."
The Whole Foods of plant-based supermarkets
Yeung knew that if the adoption of plant-based meat was going to catch on with carnivores in Asia, he'd need to make it an aspirational, luxurious experience.
Green Common stores are as curated as Whole Foods and as enticing as upscale restaurants. On its shelves you can find items like Califia Almond Milk from Los Angeles (SG$6.90), Bite Society vegan chocolate from Australia (SG$5.50), and OmniMeat Crystal Dumplings from Hong Kong (SG$6.20).
When the pandemic hit, it created layers of challenges for Green Monday, from supply chains to shop openings. But the green business leader said it also underlined why we need to think more sustainably.
"The pandemic exposed how fragile and vulnerable we are as a planet," Yeung said. "Because of AI and high tech we think we are invincible - clearly we're not. This is a mega wake up call."
Yeung has now opened 14 stores in Hong Kong. He launched his first international stores during the pandemic. In December 2020, he launched a store in Shanghai. In January 2021, he opened a store in Singapore. More stores are planned for Guangzhou and Beijing, and further stores in Shanghai and Singapore.
Yeung uses plant-based meats in classic dishes like Hainanese chicken rice and Korean army stew. He also turned the most consumed meat in Asia - pork - into a plant-based version with OmniMeat, which he launched in 2018 and which is now being used in McDonald's locations across China.
His goal, he said, is simply to get plant-based foods in front of as many people as possible.
"Green Common is a showcase, but our goal for plant-based foods is to make them common," Yeung said. "We want plant-based food to be available in different restaurants."
Researchers have forecast that the plant-based food industry will be worth $8.3 billion globally by 2025.
Over the past 18 months, Yeung said he has noticed a change in the plant-based food industry in Asia.
"The landscape is exploding. You have plant-based protein, plant-based milk, cell-base start-ups and conglomerates starting to come into this space," he said.
While Yeung may be a defining voice in the emerging meat-alternatives market in Asia, he's not the only one vying for a piece of it. In March 2020, PepsiCo bought one of China's largest plant-based snack companies, Baicaowei, for $705 million, while Japanese tech company Daiz raised $6 million in Series A funding to build the largest plant-based factory in the country. Asia has also attracted US brands Beyond Meat (of which Green Monday is an investor) and Impossible Foods, and Swiss food giant Nestle is opening a plant-based meat factory in China.
But while plant-based meat is booming, there are still some people who question how healthy it is.
"If you compare it to organic kale, then I recommend you eat organic kale," said Yeung. "But if you are comparing it to processed meat, which the World Health Organisation says is carcinogenic, it is an upgrade," says Yeung.
The journey of changing peoples' eating habits hasn't been easy, Yeung said.
"I would argue it's one of the hardest things a company can do. We are fundamentally shifting something that is very dear to people," said Yeung. "Who doesn't love food? We are disrupting how people live."