Tempting the taste buds of the world’s most populous nation is the aspiration of food and beverage brands, big and small, worldwide. Urban Chinese are spending more year on year on the consumption of food and they are looking for variety and choice to satisfy their need for new food experiences and a healthy lifestyle. Consequently, food and beverage is “hot” and the taste for new things is driving imports.
Globally the consumer‘s relationship with food is changing, no more so than in China, where the populace has become obsessed with natural and healthy food products, with provenance. Although super brands are stepping up in their efforts to reposition to meet the evolving tastes and lifestyles of Chinese consumers (and address declining profits) the real opportunity is for artisanal, gourmet and ethnic foods, imported ingredients, and grower direct stores. It is now common to find imported food shops, foreign-food sections in supermarkets, and authentic international restaurants in third and fourth-tier cities.
Dozens of small producers in China are now producing Western-style gourmet foods, such as prosciutto, baguettes, croissants, pickles, jams, truffles, and cheeses, as a direct result of how well foreign brands have performed. This has prompted importers to test out a greater variety of foreign foods. The demand for premium foreign products, combined with the availability of imported ingredients, has created a climate where foreign-themed food and beverage operators in China can offer authentic products for the first time. China has been seen as a fertile ground to test popular food, desserts and drinks from home countries. Germans are now selling sausages, French expats have found success with French-style bakeries and creperies, Italians are opening pasta restaurants, Americans are starting microbreweries, while the Irish and British are opening their particular brand of pubs.
Brands such as Nestle and the fast food chains have quickly responded from new products and makeovers of premises to revamped menus, and supermarkets, such Carrefour, have invested in small format convenience stores to rebalance declining profits in their hypermarket chain, aware that the Chinese convenience store sector has been recording double-digit growth.
The increasing diversity and sophistication of products has resulted in a broader spectrum of brands appearing on shelves and tables across China. Even staple foodstuffs, such as meat, fish, and fruit and vegetables, have become more sophisticated, and consumers now look for more options and convenience. Consumers are making choices that are much more premium and have nutrition, health and wellness arguments:
- Growing resistance to processed food in their bid for healthier lifestyle choices.
- Chasing more exciting and authentic food choices and experiences.
- Seeking convenient on-demand delivery modes, eg. food in a box, ‘Uber’ logistics.
- Preference for fresh and natural ‘real’ food.
- Increased awareness of food safety, ingredients and traceability, eg. the rise of aps, diligent label checking.
- Integrating new foods into diets.
- Continued drive for culinary innovation in food service industry and home kitchens.
- Rising new retail paradigms, such as small format stores, experiential shopping, online shopping for staples, active retailers who promote new products with amazing passion and speed.
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