Light food, substitute food, real blue ocean or fake tuyere?


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By Wei Wei
Source: deep echo
In 2020, the most Interactive ads among friends in the circle of friends must be wonderlab.
Whether or not people lose weight, they must have been more or less passively exposed to this brand of diet milkshake. This brand, which was established in early 2019, became the most popular bottled milk shake brand for women in tmall this year. This year, it bombed little red book and circle of friends. At the same time, it ushered in a capital feast – three rounds of financing will be completed within two years, and the investors include IDG capital and Qichen capital.
Behind the popularity of wonderlab is the rising trend of light food and substitute food.
In recent years, among the young consumer groups, there has been a hot wave of light food and substitute food. The new generation of consumers’ consumption and diet concept has changed, and they pay more attention to the “health” and “slimming” of diet. The food with low fat, low heat and strong sense of satiety is highly praised.
The rise of the catering brand represented by wonderlab is actually the development of the light food industry. The light food industry, which takes the lead in strengthening, is facing the dilemma of “flash in the pan” due to the problems of product homogeneity, sanitary quality and poor taste. After the waves, almost no brand can survive and develop by leaps and bounds.
Therefore, the rising star catering has gradually become a hot spot of capital pursuit – but can catering go a different way from light food? Is this a real demand or a fake demand?
Running for tickets
If you eat a salad, you’ll be healthy, and if you eat a substitute, you’ll lose weight. Whether it’s for the real purpose of losing weight and fitness, or for the placebo you provide yourself under the pressure of life, substitute and light food are really popular among young people.
They represent more of a way of life, the core of which is health, nutrition and burden reduction. Among them, low calorie, less oil and salt food can be regarded as light food, the most representative is sandwiches and salads; meal substitute refers to low calorie, easy to satiety, can partially or completely replace the meal, meal substitute powder, meal substitute milkshake, meal substitute stick, etc.
In the domestic market, substitute food and light food are brand-new concepts emerging in recent years with the growth of the younger generation and the change of lifestyle.
Among them, the development of light food industry is a step earlier. Light food industry in China has experienced a cycle of starting, upsurge and returning to rationality, which only took four years.
2014 is the first year of light salad. The first batch of salad enterprises, such as miyou salad, open salad and sweetheart rock salad, were founded. From 2015 to 2017, the market was in a high temperature state of continuous capital blessing. Miyou Sala obtained Angel round investment from Zhenge fund, and sweetheart rock Sala completed round a and round B financing. The investors included Sequoia Capital and meituan’s Longzhu capital. At the same time, more entrepreneurs swarmed in during this period. According to Li Ke, the founder of shalv light food, the number of salad shops in Shanghai was less than 50 in 2015, and reached 300 or 400 by the end of 2016.
However, after 2018, there will be a major reshuffle in the industry, including the closure of star enterprises such as sweetheart rock salad, which will cool down the capital and make the market return to rationality. Looking back, the market has long forgotten the name of sweetheart rock salad. What it remembers is the Spartan warrior event, which caused a lot of controversy and organized 300 foreign men to deliver meals on the streets of Beijing.
Startups are just a part of the light food industry. Traditional catering companies, foreign fast food companies and Internet companies are also competing for the market. More and more restaurants, coffee shops and bakeries add light food to their menus to meet the market demand.
The most famous case should be lucky coffee. Lucky coffee launched a promotion campaign in the second half of 2018, launching a series of low price meatloans, sandwiches and scones, which made it known as “light food storm”.
Substitute food has existed for a long time, but it is not until 2019 that the first year of substitute food really appears.
From the perspective of market performance, shenmou data shows that from March 2019 to February 2020, the sales of catering agents in the whole network will reach 3.647 billion yuan. In addition to wonderlab, the outstanding brand is the cereal substitute brand Wang satin, which won the top 1 in the cereal category in the “double 11” in 2019; the New Zealand substitute brand smile, which was only sold in tmall flagship store in May last year, sold 1 million bottles of single product in 2019, with sales exceeding 11.5 million yuan.
Capital also began to pour into this circuit, and wonder lab, super zero, beast life, Wang satin and other catering brands successively obtained financing. And this year, the financing wave continues.
Compared with the simple “vegetarian + low-fat meat” model, there are more kinds of substitute meals. They include meal replacer powder, meal replacer biscuits, meal replacer dairy products, oats, and energy bars. In addition, the taste is constantly changing from sweet to salty, which is more in line with the diversified dietary needs of the Chinese people.
In addition to start-ups, some traditional large-scale food enterprises are also competing to enter the track, including Master Kong, COFCO, baicaowei and so on. Some foreign catering brands, such as smile and huel, have also entered the e-commerce platform. But in the actual competition, it is still uncertain who will be better.
It can be observed from the financing situation that in the past two years, the capital has returned its enthusiasm from light food to the catering circuit.
But the short period of light eating is a wake-up call. In the face of the hot air outlets, we need to ask more questions: who is eating substitute food? What is the potential of the catering market?
Women support the catering market?
The marketing activities of “Spartan warrior” have been criticized, but it also reveals a development logic of businesses: to please young women.

In fact, both light food and substitute food are supported by female consumers. According to cbdn × tmall food’s “2020 insight report on the consumption of light food on behalf of the meal”, the consumption of light food on behalf of the meal has gradually become daily, covering a variety of healthy diet scenarios such as fitness people, weight loss people, overtime workers and daily health care people. 70% of the catering consumers are women, of which the post-85’s and post-90’s account for 40% of the catering consumption, and the post-95’s future consumption potential is the largest. The main consumer groups are concentrated in the first and second tier cities, but the growth rate of the third and fourth tier cities cannot be underestimated.
Why do female consumers choose light food or substitute food? There are two main reasons, one is the need for a healthy diet, the other is the need for convenience.
Before light food and meal substitute products appeared in the public view, there were similar products in China, such as vegetarian food and diet, but the current concept has undergone a fundamental change. Today’s light food pays more attention to dietary collocation, not just eating “grass” or low calorie, which has significantly improved the problem of high calorie sauce and balanced nutrition.
Similar snacks include sesame paste, compressed biscuits, oatmeal and so on. Today’s meal substitute is no longer the above-mentioned daily meal substitute in more sense, and gradually changes to functional meal substitute. Consumers pay more attention to nutrition, weight loss and taste.
In addition to the basic requirements of balanced nutrition, healthy diet also has the functional needs of cutting sugar and slimming. More and more contemporary young people, especially women, pay more attention to personal management, and sugar control and weight loss is bound to be accompanied by low-carbon water, low calorie diet and even fasting. Traditional diet is easy to cause hunger, and taste is not good, it is difficult to achieve the “eat not fat” expectations. The emergence of light food instead of meals gradually meets the needs of contemporary young people.
On the other hand, after experiencing the devastation of “996”, contemporary white-collar workers do not have a strong desire to cook. Especially in the case of overtime and lack of exercise, using light food instead of meals to replace one or two meals not only has no psychological burden, but also saves time and effort. In this regard, substitute food products are better than light food.
Cold thinking in the capital Carnival
In 2020, many catering start-ups have obtained capital blessing, but on the whole, many capital institutions are still in the wait-and-see stage. Although some consumers have been cut down by reducing fat, the long-term development of substitute food products still faces multiple difficulties in the future.
At the present stage, the start-up companies are deepening their own segmentation. For example, super zero focuses on the brand of natural sugar snacks, Lechun focuses on yogurt products, and fit8 is protein bar and protein bottle. It means that investors take the lead to occupy a place in the market. On the contrary, the company’s products with outstanding characteristics and non-standard potential are the ones with clear objectives.
“It’s not necessarily peers who beat you, it can also be cross-border.” The competition for the whole range of substitute food is also extremely fierce. Snack brands such as three squirrels and liangpin shop are facing market competition from Internet companies such as keep. Therefore, in contrast to start-ups, even though they may gain passenger flow and popularity through online red products in the short term, competition caused by overlapping categories is still inevitable in the long run.
At the same time, it is the trend of the future development for offline business to enter stores, and the cooperation of product channels is one of the key links. The traditional food industry has formed its own supply chain, so it has advantages over start-ups in sales and other aspects. Fortunately, this advantage is not monopolistic. The off-line operation of start-ups still has the opportunity conditions, but the layout cycle will be longer.
The positioning of substitute food products is “snacks”, even if it has nutritional value, it can not completely replace the three meals. At present, there are some products in the market, which cause certain damage to the health of consumers. Catering enterprises belong to the field of food and need to follow the provisions of food safety. At the same time, this kind of product may play “edge ball” in the propaganda, and the false propaganda has not been effectively suppressed. With the expansion of the scale in the future, the industry regulatory standards may become more stringent.
The price of substitute food products will be higher than that of ordinary snacks, and the profit margin of individual products will be larger, but the repurchase problem is still a dilemma. If we don’t break the boundary, the end users will still be limited to the fitness crowd. The pain point of repurchase difficulty is that the taste is single and the taste is not good, which still can not meet the original idea of replacing a meal.
At present, the catering enterprises have launched box products to increase the experience level of products. Not only limited to biscuits, dried meat, energy bars and other small snacks, but also introduced noodles, rice and other products, hoping to further meet the taste needs of consumers.
However, it is worth noting that this kind of products seems to be an innovation iteration of the catering industry, but from the perspective of the food industry as a whole, it is just fast food products with the banner of nutrition. If the freshness of products is further improved, cold chain service must be provided, which seems to go back to the old way of light salad.
After experiencing barbaric growth, light food salad returns to rationality, which seems to be quite different from the development mode of catering industry, but it will eventually face the same dilemma. Light food salads generally start from offline stores and operate through the take out distribution industry. However, the problem is that the threshold is low and the product is single, which can not form a good brand effect. In addition, the cost of food preservation and storage is high, so it is difficult to form the management pattern of Dalian lock.
Although 2019 is the first year of catering industry, there are few opportunities for new start-ups. Light food and substitute food are the products of conforming to the trend of the times, but they are still subject to the catering culture and realistic conditions. Empty talk about healthy life, hoping that consumers buy products through publicity gimmicks, will eventually lose to reality. The only thing an enterprise can do is to create a brand, win the hearts of the people, dig deep channels, and occupy a greater chance to win. The investment of investors is not to create short-term explosive products, but long-term value orientation.
(statement: This article only represents the author’s point of view, not Sina’s position.)