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Sector Trend Analysis – Packaged food trends in China

March 2019

Executive summary

China's population of 1.38 billion (2017) is the largest in the world and is expected to reach 1.46 billion by 2030. The country's urban population is set to increase by 23.7% over 2017-2030 to total 981 million and account for 68.2% of the country's total population.

The ten largest cities are located in the eastern half of the country, situated on or near the coast. Shanghai is the biggest city with 22.7 million people, followed by Beijing with 20.4 million.

China is the world's second-largest economy and second-largest importer of agri-food and seafood products. China is a net importer of agri-food and seafood products with an agri-food and seafood trade deficit of Can$65 billion.

Interest in packaged foods, particularly dairy, snacks, and baked good products, is strong with Chinese consumers, in particular, those aged 18 to 29 and 30 to 44, who are driving consumer spending.

Health and wellness themes are increasingly becoming central to the marketing of packaged food in China. This is partly in response to China's growing obesity population, which is now the largest in the world.

Growing demand for convenient food will contribute to the popularity of Western style packaged food in China, which better fits with faster paced lives of especially younger urban consumers.

E-commerce represents 11.1% of packaged food retail sales in China and is the main distribution channel for introducing and distributing imported packaged food products to China.

Consumer profile

China's population of 1.38 billion (2017) is the largest in the world and is expected to reach 1.46 billion by 2030. Over 57% of China's population resides in urban centers. The country's urban population is set to increase by 23.7% over 2017-2030 to total 981 million and account for 68.2% of the country's total population.

China's ten largest cities (2017)
Rank Cities Population
1 Shanghai 22,685,000
2 Beijing 20,390,000
3 Guangzhou-Foshan, Guangdong province 18,760,000
4 Shenzhen, Guangdong province 12,240,000
5 Tianjin, Tianjin province 11,260,000
6 Chengdu, Sichuan province 10,680,000
7 Dongguan, Guangdong province 8,260,000
8 Wuhan, Hubei province 7,620,000
9 Hangzhou, Zhejiang province 7,605,000
10 Chongqing 7,440,000
Source: Guardian International

The ten largest cities are located in the eastern half of the country, situated on or near the coast. Shanghai is the biggest with 22.7 million people, followed by Beijing with 20.4 million. Consumers in first tier cities like these have the country's highest disposable incomes and tend to seek out high quality, premium, and imported products. In addition to high disposable incomes, this is due to stronger consumers' interest in status and greater exposure to foreign foods than in second tier cities, such as those in Guangdong province. Guandong province, bordering Hong Kong in southern China, is China's largest in terms of total consumer spending due to its large population (108.5 million) and strong economy. Tianjin will be the fastest growing city in 2017-2030, with an expected population increase of 19.1%. By 2030 it will have a population of 14.3 million. Consumer spending in Tianjin is forecast to grow the fastest in China between 2018 and 2030, owing to a rise in manufacturing investments.

At 202 million people, China's middle class is the country's fastest growing social class and is expected to remain so through to 2030. Average annual disposable income per rural and urban Chinese household is US$11,713 and US$19,498 (2017). In comparison, average annual disposable income for rural and urban Canadian households is US$54,606 and US$67,382.

Income inequality in China is an ongoing issue, but the income gap is closing slowly, in line with rises in the minimum wage. Chinese low-income households make up the country's largest social class at 366 million people. It is expected that lower middle class households will become the country's largest social class at 378 million by 2030. Combined, low income and lower middle class households consist of 711 million people, or 62.3% of a population of 1.14 billion.

Imports

China is the world's second-largest economy and second-largest importer of agri-food and seafood products (considering the European Union (EU28) as a single market) valued at Can$162 billion (2017). China is a net importer of agri-food and seafood products with an agri-food and seafood trade deficit of Can$65 billion.

China's agri-food and seafood imports increased at a compound annual growth rate of 2.9% from 2015 to 2017. China's top agri-food and seafood imports in 2017 were soybeans, baby food, palm oil, frozen boneless beef, and wine. Key supplying countries were Brazil, the United States, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.

Canada was China's fourth-largest supplier of total agri-food and seafood products in 2017, valued at Can$8.1 billion in 2017 with 5.5% market share. Top Canadian exports to China were canola seed, soybeans, canola oil, dried peas, and canola oilcake. In 2017, Canada registered an agri-food and seafood trade surplus of Can$6.5 billion with China.

Retail sales

Interest in packaged foods, particularly dairy, snacks, and baked good products, is strong with Chinese consumers, in particular, those aged 18 to 29 and 30 to 44, who are driving consumer spending.

Health and wellness themes are increasingly becoming central to the marketing of packaged food in China. This is partly in response to China's growing obesity population, which is now the largest in the world, due to rising disposable incomes, urbanisation, the proliferation of Western-style fast food and increasingly sedentary lifestyles. There has also been significant growth in the number of obese children in recent years.

Chinese consumers' perception of what constitutes good health and, in turn, demand for health-related products and services, often diverges from Western consumers. According to a 2017 report from McKinsey and Company, contrary to the West's vigorous exercise regimes and high-protein, low-carb, low-fat diets, Chinese people focus on the harmonious balance of mind and body. Foods are valued for specific properties, for example, their ‘heating' or ‘cooling' effects, while traditional forms of exercise, like tai chi, are low impact and focus on restoring positive flows of energy.

The Chinese government and private sector actively informs Chinese consumers on the significance of food safety in an effort to encourage the consumption of healthier and fresher packaged food products with more natural and premium ingredients and fewer additives and preservatives. This is especially the case for state owned and private dairy manufacturers, which is the largest packaged food product category, worth US$83.7 billion and representing 34.7% of total packaged food sales. Dairy products have grown 6.6% annually from 2013-2017 and are forecast to grow 6.9% annually over the 2018-2022 period.

The development of the cold-chain system has also helped the expansion of dairy and other fresh packaged food products with shorter shelf lives and is predicted to further facilitate expansion in lower-tier cities and rural areas of China.

Interest in imported packaged food products, in particular dairy and snack products, is partly due to perceived higher safety and quality compared to domestic food products. Rising income levels and increased exposure to overseas influences has also made consumers increasingly sophisticated in terms of seeking authentic and premium imported products, such as dairy products from Australia and New Zealand, Belgian chocolate, and savoury snacks from South Korea and Thailand.

Historic retail sales of packaged food – US$ millions
Category 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 CAGR* % 2013-17
Dairy 64,846.2 72,693.5 75,652.9 78,754.3 83,709.1 6.6
Snacks 42,980.3 46,907.3 47,424.8 49,074.8 51,093.5 4.4
Rice, pasta and noodles 25,780.2 27,485.7 28,006.7 28,852.7 29,911.0 3.8
Baked goods 17,979.5 20,323.1 22,209.9 24,980.1 28,571.4 12.3
Sauces, dressings and condiments 10,978.5 12,345.2 13,541.3 14,553.8 15,670.4 9.3
Edible oils 13,882.8 13,565.0 13,798.2 14,101.5 14,404.3 0.9
Processed meat and seafood 13,053.0 12,816.5 12,538.7 12,732.0 13,070.4 0.0
Processed fruit and vegetables 1,020.7 1,120.3 1,210.2 1,335.5 1,465.9 9.5
Spreads 964.5 1,026.5 1,085.0 1,155.0 1,224.6 6.2
Breakfast cereals 670.8 746.7 827.4 914.1 1,002.1 10.6
Ready meals 1,109.8 1,179.3 1,080.5 1,012.5 995.9 -2.7
Soup 51.5 58.5 67.6 73.7 78.9 6.9
Total 193,317.8 210,267.6 217,443.2 227,540.0 241,197.5 6.9

Source: Euromonitor International, 2018

*CAGR: Compound Annual Growth Rate

Forecast retail sales of packaged food – US$ millions
Category 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 CAGR* % 2018-22
Dairy 89,882.3 95,699.7 102,572.8 109,823.2 117,350.9 6.9
Snacks 53,189.9 55,710.1 58,548.3 61,601.2 64,845.2 5.1
Baked goods 32,222.1 36,464.9 41,446.9 47,019.1 53,251.5 13.4
Rice, pasta and noodles 31,007.1 32,292.3 33,852.6 35,612.4 37,529.9 4.9
Sauces, dressings and condiments 16,926.2 18,212.4 19,587.9 20,990.2 22,407.2 7.3
Edible oils 14,743.2 15,124.8 15,577.1 16,075.6 16,624.0 3.0
Processed meat and seafood 13,411.8 13,865.6 14,480.4 15,194.8 15,952.9 4.4
Processed fruit and vegetables 1,591.6 1,732.5 1,885.9 2,046.6 2,213.1 8.6
Spreads 1,295.3 1,367.4 1,446.2 1,525.8 1,606.1 5.5
Breakfast cereals 1,083.5 1,170.3 1,265.4 1,364.7 1,468.4 7.9
Ready meals 991.9 1,012.0 1,044.7 1,082.8 1,122.2 3.1
Soup 84.3 89.2 93.7 97.8 101.1 4.6
Total 256,429.2 272,741.2 291,801.9 312,434.2 334,472.5 7.0

Source: Euromonitor International, 2018

*CAGR: Compound Annual Growth Rate

Distribution channels

E-commerce represents 11.1% of packaged food retail sales in China and is one of the main distribution channels for introducing and distributing imported packaged food products to China. Crossborder e-commerce platforms, which brings imported products from the country of origin directly to consumers, allow small or niche companies to initially tap into China as well as prepare for entering the market through grocery retailers. Grocery retailers (for example, China Resources Vanguard, Yonghui, Walmart, Carrefour, Metro) represent 82.7% of packaged food retail sales with nearly all retailers selling imported foods. Growing online competition is forcing grocery retailers to include an online platform to their business. Furthermore, high real estate and labour costs in first and second tier cities have slowed their expansion in first tier cities and have put greater emphasis on penetrating third and fourth tier cities for future growth.

Cross border e-commerce platforms include Tmall Global and JD.com Worldwide. Online shoppers tend to be young and urban, living in top-tier cities (for example, Shanghai), however, as e-commerce growth has begun to slow in these markets, this profile is expected to change as more Chinese consumers from lower tier cities connect online. Major e-commerce retailers see second-tier cities, such as Nanjing, Wuhan, Suzhou and Xi'an, as their key to future growth. According to a recent survey reported on website marketingtochina.com, respondents said foods from the United States and France are the most popular due to their reputations for safety and quality. The survey also found that dairy products and snacks are the most popular food products purchased online.

In April 2016, the Chinese government issued a new custom duty policy to impose extra value added tax on foreign products sold on cross-border e-commerce platforms. This policy is meant to level the playing field between foreign and domestic online retailers, which is expected to greatly challenge sales of packaged food products by overseas retailers via this particular channel.

China distribution channels of packaged food products by market share (%)
Channel 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Modern grocery retailers 59.6 59.6 59.6 59.1 58.0 57.8
Traditional grocery retailers 32.2 30.5 28.9 27.3 25.9 24.9
Non-grocery specialists 5.0 4.8 4.8 5.0 5.6 6.0
Internet retailing 2.9 4.9 6.6 8.3 10.2 11.1
Other 0.3 0.2 0.1 0.3 0.3 0.2
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
Source: Euromonitor International, 2018

Companies and brands

Dairy products

Historic retail sales of dairy products – US$ millions
Category 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 CAGR* % 2013-17
Shelf stable milk 11,138.3 12,363.1 12,775.8 13,466.1 13,793.4 5.5
Flavoured milk drinks 12,870.5 13,920.4 12,098.2 10,270.9 9,486.7 -7.3
Other milk alternatives 8,104.8 7,957.3 7,613.8 7,035.2 6,352.8 -5.9
Fresh milk 3,095.0 3,409.8 3,618.9 3,916.5 4,296.9 8.5
Powder milk 2,219.7 2,393.7 2,432.0 2,511.6 2,687.4 4.9
Soy drinks 1,019.2 1,120.6 1,194.6 1,318.9 1,574.7 11.5
Total 38,447.6 41,165.0 39,733.4 38,519.2 38,191.9 -0.2

Source: Euromonitor International, 2018

*CAGR: Compound Annual Growth Rate

Forecast retail sales of dairy products – US$ millions
Category 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 CAGR* % 2018-22
Shelf stable milk 14,197.4 14,647.8 15,164.6 15,718.9 16,324.4 3.6
Fresh milk 4,702.4 5,132.6 5,605.6 6,112.6 6,652.7 9.1
Other milk alternatives 6,378.2 6,383.2 6,417.1 6,472.6 6,541.4 0.6
Flavoured milk drinks 9,059.0 7,923.2 7,370.2 6,886.6 6,465.8 -8.1
Powder milk 2,856.7 3,031.2 3,199.6 3,361.7 3,524.9 5.4
Soy drinks 1,771.6 1,950.5 2,112.7 2,282.6 2,454.3 8.5
Total 38,965.3 39,068.5 39,869.7 40,834.9 41,963.5 1.9

Source: Euromonitor International, 2018

*CAGR: Compound Annual Growth Rate

Dairy products are the most popular imported food products partly due to several domestic food safety incidents in 2008 and 2010. In these incidents, melamine was found in the products (baby formula, fluid milk) of 22 Chinese dairy companies - one out of every five suppliers in China.

In response to higher demand for imported dairy products, the Chinese government has encouraged domestic private and state owned dairy companies to invest in overseas production facilities and import much of the dairy products they manufacture. For example, Inner Mongolia Yili Industrial Group has invested in facilities in New Zealand and Australia, while Heilongjiang Feihe Dairy has invested in a plant in Kingston, Ontario.

Young female consumers are increasingly being targeted by manufacturers for their increased purchasing power and interest in healthier food products. For example, at the end of 2016, Inner Mongolia Yili Industrial Group Co Ltd introduced a new powdered milk product whose name translates to "Warm You Up", which features high iron and folic acid to release female consumers from their menstruation uneasiness. Yili promotes Warm You Up as a product that offers physical and emotional release, keeping body and mind equally warmed for young female consumers with periodic discomfort during menstruation.

Apart from its unique function and positioning in health, Warm You Up is also equipped with a social networking function as it comes with a smart thermal mug with a small LED screen, which shows messages sent from consumers' online friends via a correspondent mobile app called Warm You. This indicates an integration of digital facilities and social networking function into drinking milk products, serving to easily attract the younger generation and adapt to the premiumisation trend.

Formula milk powder for female

Company Inner Mongolia Yili Industrial Group
Brand Yili You Yue Mei Li Fang Cheng Shi
Category Dairy
Sub-category White milk
Country of manufacture China
Import status Not imported
Price in local currency CNY38.90
Price in US dollars 5.99

Snacks

Historic retail sales of snack products – US$ millions
Category 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 CAGR* % 2013-17
Other savoury snacks 3,536.1 3,925.0 4,156.6 4,451.7 4,807.9 8.0
Nuts, seeds and trail mixes 2,720.0 3,073.6 3,411.8 3,838.2 4,172.1 11.3
Puffed snacks 2,279.4 2,552.9 2,619.3 2,760.7 2,901.5 6.2
Potato chips 1,599.9 1,807.9 1,995.9 2,161.6 2,248.0 8.9
Savoury biscuits 1,697.9 1,835.4 1,873.9 1,915.2 1,963.0 3.7
Rice snacks 1,750.9 1,573.9 1,660.4 1,753.4 1,827.1 1.1
Popcorn 13.2 15.2 16.2 17.5 18.5 8.8
Total 13,597.3 14,784.0 15,734.2 16,898.4 17,938.2 7.2

Source: Euromonitor International, 2018

*CAGR: Compound Annual Growth Rate

Forecast retail sales of snack products – US$ millions
Category 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 CAGR* % 2018-22
Other savoury snacks 5,182.9 5,594.9 6,048.8 6,535.1 7,053.3 8.0
Nuts, seeds and trail mixes 4,514.3 4,808.5 5,110.0 5,416.1 5,723.5 6.1
Puffed snacks 3,043.7 3,217.2 3,399.1 3,585.3 3,774.1 5.5
Potato chips 2,405.4 2,574.5 2,754.4 2,939.1 3,127.1 6.8
Savoury biscuits 2,021.9 2,091.7 2,175.7 2,270.4 2,376.0 4.1
Rice snacks 1,900.1 1,989.0 2,083.2 2,180.2 2,279.4 4.7
Popcorn 19.5 20.6 21.6 22.6 23.5 4.8
Total 19,087.9 20,296.5 21,592.9 22,948.8 24,356.9 6.3

Source: Euromonitor International, 2018

*CAGR: Compound Annual Growth Rate

Nuts, seeds and trail mixes continue to be the most popular savoury snacks in retail sales and compound annual growth terms in 2017. Trail mixes products performed particularly well thanks to their offer of recommended daily allowances of various nutrients. In 2017, Be & Cheery launched a new trail mix product called "90 Days Fresh". As the name suggests, this product has a shelf life of 90 days so as to minimise loss of flavour and nutritional value via oxidation, whereas most of its competitors have a shelf life of one year. Moreover, due to differences in the moisture levels of nuts and dried fruit, 90 Days Fresh offers separate packaging compartments for these ingredients.

In line with growing interest in higher quality and more nutritious snack options, snacks have seen growing interest in new product types that combine healthy ingredients with tasty flavours. For example, rising demand for convenient but healthy snack foods has increased the popularity of seafood savoury snacks. Although comparatively expensive, health-conscious consumers are generally willing to pay the extra cost due to their low fat, high protein formulas. Such products are particularly popular among younger female consumers seeking indulgent snacks that will not cause weight gain.

Major domestic snack manufacturers, such as Bestore and Three Squirrels, have developed new seafood products in cooperation with ZONECO, one of China's largest aquaculture enterprises. In addition to conventional options such as dried fish and dried squid snacks, the company now offers fresher and juicier product types such as prawns and spicy abalone. It is expected that Bestore will continue to introduce new seafood snacks such as cheese scallop products over the forecast period.

Hand shredded squid slices

Company Liang Pin Pu Zi
Brand Liang Pin Pu Zi / Bestore
Country of manufacture China
Price in US dollars 2.88

Source: Mintel 2018

Sales of Yam chips have also performed well based on their similarity to stackable potato chips in terms of taste and texture as well as the widespread belief among Chinese consumers that yam has stomach nourishing and spleen-fortifying benefits. The most popular yam chips brand in 2017 was Hong Tu by Shandong Xiruimen Co Ltd. The success of this brand has encouraged several other manufacturers to launch yam chips products over 2017-2018, including Three Squirrels and Qia Qia. Over the forecast period, it is possible that some manufacturers will launch new yam chips products that are roasted rather than fried to better meet the demand for healthier salty snacks.

Sichuan spicy flavoured yam chips

Company Aiyomi Foods
Brand Aiyim / Aiyomi Xiao Mei De Ling Shi
Country of manufacture China
Price in US dollars 1.49

Source: Mintel 2018

Baked Goods

Historic retail sales of baked goods – US$ millions
Category 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 CAGR* % 2013-17
Unpackaged cakes 5,931.0 6,841.3 7,430.8 8,471.2 9,487.7 12.5
Unpackaged pastries 5,304.2 5,972.5 6,641.8 7,551.7 8,457.9 12.4
Unpackaged leavened bread 1,967.2 2,225.0 2,405.0 2,657.5 2,989.9 11.0
Packaged cakes 2,172.5 2,437.6 2,640.1 2,917.3 2,873.6 7.2
Packaged pastries 1,789.1 1,961.0 2,140.4 2,365.1 2,634.7 10.2
Packaged leavened bread 1,433.0 1,583.4 1,713.6 1,898.6 2,122.7 10.3
Dessert mixes 322.2 364.5 398.9 424.1 446.6 8.5
Total 18,919.1 21,385.2 23,370.6 26,285.5 29,013.1 11.3

Source: Euromonitor International, 2018

*CAGR: Compound Annual Growth Rate

Forecast retail sales of baked goods – US$ millions
Category 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 CAGR* % 2018-22
Unpackaged cakes 10,664.2 12,024.3 13,603.8 15,408.7 17,467.9 13.1
Unpackaged pastries 9,498.2 10,670.9 11,985.1 13,427.8 15,002.0 12.1
Unpackaged leavened bread 3,423.5 3,860.1 4,371.2 4,960.1 5,638.2 13.3
Packaged pastries 2,982.5 3,387.3 3,860.0 4,403.8 5,028.5 14.0
Packaged cakes 3,227.0 3,559.4 3,928.5 4,328.9 4,761.0 10.2
Packaged leavened bread 2,430.4 2,725.5 3,052.8 3,407.8 3,789.8 11.7
Dessert mixes 471.1 496.5 523.6 551.2 579.1 5.3
Total 32,697.0 36,724.1 41,325.0 46,488.3 52,266.5 12.4

Source: Euromonitor International, 2018

*CAGR: Compound Annual Growth Rate

Baked goods continue to experience growing popularity in China, largely thanks to increased urbanisation and rising income levels. In addition to their convenience, Chinese consumers, particularly the younger generation, are increasingly adapting to Western diets. Unpackaged cakes are also increasing in popularity due to China's gifting tradition for celebrating significant events and festivals, and the rapid expansion of bakeries in China. As a result, the retail sales value of baked goods in China is expected to record a CAGR of 12.4% over 2018-22.

In addition to increasing demand for premium baked goods, the average price of baked goods is expected to increase due to increased duty fees of imported fresh milk, butter and cream (the major ingredients of baked goods) from 1.7% to 10.0% since 2017.

Traditional bakeries dominate the distribution of baked goods in China due to consumer demand for fresh, healthier and premium products. Internet retailing, with its convenience and competitive price, is projected to expand rapidly into baked goods. The rise of online independent bakeries has facilitated the access to unpackaged baked goods of consumers living in lower-tier cities, where the penetration rate of offline bakery shops remained comparatively low.

Double layer cheesecake

Company Holiland
Brand Holiland
Country of manufacture China
Price in US dollars 11.06

Source: Mintel 2018

Opportunities

Growing demand for convenient food will contribute to the popularity of Western style packaged food in China. Compared to traditional Chinese food, Western food generally requires much less time to prepare and therefore better fits with faster paced lives of especially younger urban consumers.

As well, opportunities for further segmentation of existing packaged food product categories exist to meet consumers' specific demands in accordance with various economic, social, ethnical and cultural features of Chinese consumers. For example, it is expected that western foods will become increasingly localised to align with dietary preferences of Chinese consumers. Packaged food categories that contain products for typical Western cuisine include pasta, chilled processed meat, cheese, and breakfast cereals.

In addition to driving consumption of packaged food products with highlighted health and wellness functions, China's ageing population is also expected to accelerate consumption of Western foods localised to Chinese tastes as demand is set to increase for more convenient Western food over traditional Chinese food to fit the lifestyles of older consumers. For example, European style bread that is made softer to adapt for the taste preferences of Chinese consumers is widely popular among Chinese consumers. In 2017, the number of 65 year olds and over accounted for 10.8% of the total population, at 149.0 million people. By 2030, this is expected to be just over 17% of the total population to 249.6 million people.

The effects of China's 2-child policy will drive consumption of children specific packaged food products. Apart from baby food, other packaged food categories are successively introducing children specific products to benefit from the growing expenditure on children by families, such as children's soy sauce, children's plain noodles and children's processed cheese, among others.

For more information

International Trade Commissioners can provide Canadian industry with on-the-ground expertise regarding market potential, current conditions and local business contacts, and are an excellent point of contact for export advice.

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ben.berry@canada.ca

Resources

Sector Trend Analysis – Packaged food trends in China
Global Analysis Report

Prepared by: Kris Clipsham, International Market Analyst, Global Analysis

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