American fake-meat maker Impossible Foods Inc. is concerned about how long it might take to get a regulatory nod to enter China, as rival Beyond Meat Inc. deepens its push into the world’s biggest meat-consuming nation.

California-based Impossible Foods makes meatless burger patties and sausages using heme -- its “magic ingredient” made from genetically modified yeast -- which requires regulatory approval in China.

“We’re not worried about the outcome, we’re just worried about the timeline,” Chief Executive Officer Pat Brown said in an interview, adding that he was confident about the science behind his products. “I’m not losing any sleep” over the regulatory approval because “it’s just something that we can’t control.”

Clearing the regulatory hurdle is key to Impossible Foods tapping the vast Chinese market, which accounts for 27% of the world’s meat consumption by volume. The longer it’s forced to wait, the more ground it risks losing to Beyond Meat, which is building two production units near Shanghai in a bid to capture a larger slice of the Chinese market for plant-based meat substitutes.

China is the biggest opportunity for alternative-protein makers after the coronavirus pandemic wiped out restaurant sales in the US. Other players such as Sweden’s Oatly AB and the U.S.-based Eat JUST Inc., a vegan egg company, already have a Chinese presence.

“I would imagine within a few years, just because of the scale of the demand in China, it will be our No. 1 market,” Brown said.

The faux-meat maker is talking to potential partners in China and will embark on a “pretty aggressive launch” when the approval comes, Brown said, without sharing any other details.

‘Car Without Wheels’

Despite the regulatory challenge, Impossible Foods doesn’t plan to alter its recipe for the Chinese market as heme is the “critical ingredient” in aping the meat flavours. “There’s really nothing else that does that. Can you make a car without wheels?” said Brown.

Impossible Foods is planning to make its namesake pork offering the “headline product” when it gets to enter China, he said.

The outbreak of African Swine Fever in China has driven up the price of pork and primed consumers for alternatives. If the American firms can win over even a small fraction of the country’s 1.4 billion people, the opportunity is massive.

Impossible Foods is already seeing Asia emerge as the next frontier for growth. The company is launching on Thursday the meatless Impossible Sausage in Hong Kong — where the rules are different than in mainland China — about eight months after introducing it in the US.

In 2019, Impossible Foods’ sales increased by more than six times across its Asian markets of Singapore, Hong Kong and Macau.

On the China regulatory approval, the company is sanguine. “It’ll take however long it takes,” said Brown. “We are confident that from a scientific perspective, there are no issues.”