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Exporting Food & Beverage to China: A Strategic Guide

May 26, 2022

The Chinese import food sector is a profitable and dynamic market. As China's middle class expands, so does its need for imported commodities, with a surge in demand for non-local foods such as cheese, olive oil, chocolate, and so on. Because of ingredient concerns, as well as safety and sanitary concerns, foreign products are frequently seen as safer than domestic items. Imported food also reacts to shifting consumer preferences among the younger generation, who favour Western brands over native names.


As a result, the Chinese market is appealing to companies and businesses looking to develop their operations in the world's most populous country. In this article, we will provide you with all of the secrets to effectively exporting your goods to China and utilizing the platforms at your disposal.



We have teamed up with the most recognizable and well-known Web & Marketing Agencies in China. Our services include E-Commerce, Search Engine Optimization, Advertising, Weibo, WeChat, WeChat Store, and Public Relations, among others.


​Contents


China’s Imported Food: A Dynamic and Lucrative Industry

Overview of the Chinese Food Market

What Drives Food Imports in the Middle Kingdom?

Chinese Consumers’ Purchasing Behaviours

How are Chinese consumers looking for new products?

Why do Chinese consumers “prefer” imported products/brands?

Why is China a promising market for foreign food brands?

Taxes are decreasing

Chinese consumers are looking for new culinary experiences

In China, Imported Food Products can serve as Gifts

What are the challenges when exporting food products in China?

Steps to exporting food products to China: How do I start

Chinese regulations & Government Guidelines: export food safety

Do I need an export license to sell F&B goods in China?

How can F&B professionals increase their sales & profits in China?

What are the main channels of distribution for food Product & brand in China?

Selling food products offline: The classic strategy

Selling Food Products Online through your own website

Cross-Border E-Commerce platforms: The Best Way to Sell Imported products in China

Bet on Digital Platforms to Develop your E-Reputation in China

Social media are the best tools to increase your e-reputation

Improving your ranking on Baidu: China’s leading search engine

Gaining visibility thanks to influencers

Get in touch to export F&B brand in China?

How can Linked Digital Services help you?


China’s Imported Food: A Dynamic and Lucrative Industry


China is the world's second-largest economy and one of the most rapidly increasing marketplaces for food and beverage businesses. Its growing desire for higher-quality, premium, well-known food brands was driven by urbanization and an increase in disposable money, which was supported by China's digitalization. Before entering the Chinese food industry, you should aim to have a deeper grasp of the habits and consumption trends of Chinese customers.


Overview of the Chinese Food Market


When discussing imported goods in China, keep in mind that China's food supply has enormous consequences for both national food security and commercial commerce. Following many natural catastrophes hurting wheat and dairy production, Chinese residents, who consume more than half of their calories through grains, rely not only on domestic products but also on imports. In other words, China now produces insufficient food to feed its population.


A farmer carries water on a dried-up field in Xinqiao Township, Yi Autonomous Prefecture of Chuxiong, southwest China’s Yunnan Province, July 8, 2015. (PHOTO / XINHUA)


Imported F&B items sales in China have grown at a pace of 15% each year, whereas the global average is about 4%. Despite the fact that imported items benefit from a positive image among Chinese customers, this industry is very competitive, with both domestic and international firms. Furthermore, it is vital to note that imported items are subject to greater taxes than local products.


What Drives Food Imports in the Middle Kingdom?


The relative shifts in consumer goods production and demand growth have had an impact on China's position in the global food trade, as it has transitioned from being a significant international player that exports food items to one that imports.


(© Sixth tone)


The self-sufficiency of China’s agriculture has been declining due to the high demand as well as its large population. As of 2009, China was importing around 50% more than it was exporting (National Bureau of Statistics of China – NBSC). Among agricultural commodities, grains are recording the most rapid rise in imports from China. For example, while China was self-reliant on soybean and was even one of its main exporters, in 2020, its import reached 100.33 million tons. The Middle Kingdom is also seeing increased meat imports, with a growth rate reaching 44% between 2011 and 2015 (NBSC).


There are three main reasons that explain why the importation of food products into China is prosperous:

  • Food Safety

After the overwhelming number of food safety-related scandals in China (more than 1,090 in the last three years, according to Jing Daily), it is no surprise that it’s one of the top concerns among customers. In fact, Chinese consumers’ number one concern is food safety, which topped other worries such as water quality or air quality. The government strengthens its food safety law every year.


Because of increased salaries, China's middle class has grown significantly. Life standards have shifted, as have food patterns. They are now concerned with ensuring that their products are safe to consume. Indeed, in recent years, there have been several scandals (particularly involving maternal and newborn goods) that have made consumers less trusting of Chinese businesses, as well as, in certain cases, international food manufacturers. Thus, while exporting food to China, international firms have a chance to demonstrate that their products and ingredients are of higher quality and adhere to national food safety requirements.

According to the data above, 94 percent of respondents believe that there are numerous food scandals in China caused by dishonest firms that are not penalized. As a result, it is critical to adhere to safety requirements in order to compete and attract Chinese customers. To acquire their trust, you must be as straightforward and open as possible.


Around 86% of Chinese consumers pay attention to food security when buying their products. Another interesting point for foreign food producers: most Chinese consumers are against food additives.

88% of Chinese consumers in 1st and 2nd tier cities are against it, and 25% of them prefer to pay more if it does not contain any additive.

  • Healthy Food

Chinese consumers show greater interest in healthy food. It is true that today, consumers are paying more attention to their health and appearance. They are extremely attentive to their body weight, which is according to them synonym of good health.


There is a huge untapped potential in several segments of foreign healthy food products:

As previously said, customers are increasingly seeking nutritious food without additives, as well as organic, low-calorie, and slimming items. Because these four areas have significant potential in China, global businesses should capitalize on them.


Chinese customers are enjoying the new organic trend because they want to consume healthier foods. Over 30% of customers in first and second-tier cities buy organic food on a regular basis. Consumers want pesticide-free goods as well as fresh items.


Having a kid influences Chinese parents to be more mindful about what they consume. Families with better incomes were willing to spend more for organic items at the time, but now everyone is prepared to pay more for higher-quality and healthier products because they want to provide the best for their children.



Healthy products that are popular among Chinese consumers


On another hand, parents in China are starting to take note of the ingredients and nutritional information of what they feed their children in order to decrease the risk of obesity (which was quite common a few years ago among young children).

  • Globalization

Eating is not all about health and safety issues, globalization plays its role. We can say that there is a globalization of eating habits that has impacted Chinese society. Chinese consumers were able to travel more than before, tasting and buying products that were not common in the Chinese culture, and then sharing their experiences with their friends during vlogs or posting pictures on social media.

Over 90% of Chinese customers have already purchased Western F&B items (that are mainly everyday life & agricultural products). Furthermore, purchasing foreign items in China conveys an impression of affluence, as international products are more expensive than native products. It is related to the notion of the face: the more foreign things you have, the better your image will be (even though some domestic companies are gaining popularity in China).


Foreign restaurants are also highly popular in China, communicating a certain dignity for some, with high-quality items that differ from the typical meals of Chinese consumers.


Chinese Consumers’ Purchasing Behaviours


As habits diverge from one nation to the next, Chinese customers will be more likely to purchase specific things, whilst foreign products that are too 'special' will not appeal to the bulk of them.


How are Chinese consumers looking for new products?


With China's recent digitization, the internet has become the primary source of information for Chinese customers seeking for companies. Before purchasing a product, over two-thirds of them will consult Baidu (China's Google) for brand information. The second most common source of knowledge is family, friends, and KOL (Key Opinion Leaders).


Heineken on Baidu


The trend of China's imported item consumption is being driven by youthful impulses and a desire to discover new flavours. Surveys of young Chinese people aged 25 to 34 suggest that they are more than twice as likely as older generations to be heavily affected by social media when picking what to eat, whether it is imported or purchased in grocery shops or restaurants. Regardless of generation, Chinese consumers would undoubtedly choose a foreign brand that is already established and popular in China over an unknown brand that does not even appear in Baidu's search results.


If you want to market your brand or products in China, you should realize that social media and mobile applications outperform traditional media advertising in newspapers and magazines. Print media advertising is no longer a profitable marketing channel in China since it is expensive and difficult to measure. Social media and mobile applications, on the other hand, are beneficial since you can connect with your customers and create innovative advertising.


Having a Chinese name is crucial to Successfully export your food products to China

Mcdonald’s, known as 麦当劳 in China


You should have a Chinese name if you wish to be quickly found on Baidu. In fact, having a suitable Chinese name for your business demonstrates that you care about the Chinese market and are driven and prepared to tailor your brand precisely to Chinese consumers. In fact, it should be the first stage in any localized branding strategy in China since customers will form an impression of your brand based on its Chinese name.


Your Chinese name will embody the value, narrative, and personality of your brand. Chinese shoppers are constantly seeking new and unique products, so make sure you find a means to attract their attention and be visible online. Most of the time, they will conduct web research using your Chinese name rather than your original brand name.


If you wish to sell your items in China, you must also register your trademark in China. Because China is a "first-to-file" country, you should register your trademark before anybody else. For further information, please contact us.


Why do Chinese consumers “prefer” imported products/brands?


Following the multiple sanitary scandals in recent years, Chinese consumers are particularly vigilant about what they eat, as previously said. Many individuals assume that international products are more trustworthy than local ones.


According to the DDMA Secondary Research, 69 percent of respondents (from all socioeconomic groups) firmly think that foreign food is superior, and 60 percent favour restaurants that serve foreign cuisine. This demonstrates that foreign foods are still seen differently and compete with indigenous items. However, as seen in the graph below, it is evident that high-income families take this into account more than low-income ones.


(© DDMA Secondary Research)


How Do Chinese Consumers Purchase Imported F&B Goods?


It is estimated that 65% of Chinese consumers who buy imported food buy online because of the wide variety of products and because it is more convenient. In addition, you can also find better prices through online platforms than in traditional stores.


Moreover, Chinese consumers are accustomed to purchasing online, using popular platforms like Tmall, Taobao, JD.com, Pinduoduo, etc.


What are the most purchased imported products in China?


China imports a wide range of products including dairy, meat, jam, chocolate, and confectionery. Dairy products and snacks are the most commonly purchased products when it comes to foreign brands, which is quite surprising as these products were not part of their habits a decade ago.

When looking at the most purchased imported products in China as of 2017, these products are clearly standing out (according to their number of transactions) :

  • Meat, frozen meat, and aquatic products: 295,000

  • Edible oils: 33,000

  • Dairy products: 77,000

  • Sea products: 111,000

  • Grain products: 100,000

  • Alcoholic beverage: 272,000

  • Candy: 102,000

  • Non-alcoholic beverage: 132,000

  • Dried nuts: 117,000

  • Pastry and cookies: 83,000

Source: General Administration of Customs, P.R. China


Some examples of products that are growing in popularity in China
  • Chocolate: An exquisite product

Chocolate on JD.com

The chocolate sector, for example, is a profitable one for international companies. People may not realize it, but chocolate's rebirth in China is a relatively young phenomenon. While Switzerland and America are at the top of the list in terms of consumption, with roughly 12 kilogrammes per capita yearly, Chinese individuals drink only 6-8kg on average per year. But here's the good news: This figure has more than quadrupled in the last few years, reaching up to 16-20 kg each year. And it doesn't appear like things will slow down anytime soon - there has been such a surge in demand that many businesses have taken advantage of the chance to expand their operations.


  • Grains at the core of Chinese people’s meals

As you may have heard, the United States is the world's largest producer of maize, while Brazil is the largest producer of soybeans, owing to China's massive need. In reality, China is the world's largest importer of maize and soybeans, accounting for over half of total worldwide imports.


China’s Skyrocketing demand for Corn and corn powder


The price of maize has reached an all-time high this year - $7 per bushel - due to ballooning demand from China, and this situation is not about to end, as China's need for feed grains has been increasing quickly as its hog output recovers from African swine disease outbreaks.


Japan imported 3.29 billion US dollars of maize in 2020, followed by Mexico and China, which contributed for 2.49 billion US dollars. The United States exported over 13 billion US dollars worth of maize internationally in the previous year, accounting for more than a third of total corn exports globally.


According to USDA data, corn imports into China were up by almost 250% in 2020/21, meanwhile, those of wheat nearly doubled compared to a few years ago, as Chinese consumers are fond of chickens (the success of fried chicken, KFC, etc.) that contain breadcrumbs or coatings made with flour.


Soybeans market in China


China’s soybean imports reached an annual record in 2020, growing 13% from the previous year as prices and demand for pork increased.

The General Administration of Customs reported that 100.33 million tons were purchased this past year – up significantly from 88.51 million a few years ago- to meet demands by food processors and pig farmers alike who are willing to pay more but wait longer times if necessary since domestic production is down dramatically due to floodings that killed off much of their crops before they could be harvested.

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In 2020, the total import value of soybeans in China amounted to approximately 39.5 billion U.S dollars – that’s up from around 35.3 billion US dollars last year.


China’s ever-growing population combined with improving living standards means that more people can afford to eat meat, thus increasing the demand for grains to feed animals.


What are Chinese consumers’ expectations when looking for imported products?


As previously said, people are mostly se