8 July 2014
Chinese consumers increasingly sensitive to imported food origins
The frequent occurrence of food safety incidents in China is eroding consumer confidence in domestically produced food. Consumers generally think that in China there is a lack of regulation in the food market, the production environment is polluted and there is no guarantee of the quality of domestically produced food. The pursuit of food safety is therefore driving people to buy more imported packaged food. China’s packaged food market expanded at an average annual rate of 30% during 2009-2013.
Products of different grades enter market
According to a survey report on China’s packaged food market released recently by HKTDC Research, 58% of the respondents agree with the statement “I am now buying more imported packaged food than before.” It is learned that, previously, consumers bought imported food mainly as gifts and the preference was to buy mid- to high-end items of famous brands due to the face factor. Now, with consumer confidence in domestically produced food shaken, the market for imported food for self-consumption has been growing relentlessly, offering imported food of different grades opportunities to enter the mainland market and establish their brands. The focus group participants have made the following comments:
“Regardless of their origin, imported goods are better than domestically produced ones.”
“Those types of one-litre imported milk packet are rather cheap and priced more or less like domestically produced ones. For sure I will buy imported ones.”
“There are more and more imported food items. The prices of those from Southeast Asia are quite inexpensive. I buy them regularly.”
Increasingly sensitive to food origins
Given today’s information explosion, and as more foreign brands enter the mainland market and more people travel abroad, consumers are in general better informed about countries and regions around the world than before. This knowledge consists of hard facts and personal experiences thanks to the ease of information access and opportunities for first-hand observation and experience nowadays. The survey reveals that, as consumers know more about the characteristics of a given place and are increasingly sensitive about the place of origin, their views on imported packaged food are not solely based on their knowledge of the characteristics of the product concerned. They are also influenced by the economic level of the place of origin of the product concerned.
65% of the respondents agree that “the view on the place of origin of imported packaged food is shaped mainly by the knowledge of the characteristics of that place of origin, the local climate and the local production techniques that allow it to specialise in the production of certain types of products.” For example, a respondent has pointed out that “the best imported rice must be that from Thailand as the Golden Elephant brand rice from Thailand has a long history.” 63% of them agree that “the view on the place of origin of imported packaged food is shaped mainly by the economic level of that place: the higher the economic level, the better guarantee there is on product quality.”
Moreover, brand halo effects are apparent among consumers. In other words, because a famous brand is from a certain place, consumers tend to have greater awareness and positive perception towards products of the same category from that place. 60% of the respondents agree that they “will be influenced by certain famous imported brands and become more interested in buying products of the same category from the same place.” For example, a respondent has remarked that “when it comes to cookies, those from Denmark are of course the best because Kjeldsens’ Butter Cookies are from Denmark.” Because consumers are affected by Kjeldsens’ Butter Cookies, they generally have a good impression of cookies produced in Denmark.
The survey finds that among the respondents who have bought imported packaged food, the major categories are snack food and dairy products. Snack food ranks top in terms of consumption rate and respondents’ desire to try new flavours. Hence, many consumers wish to see more imported snack food brought into the market.