China will soon become the biggest importer of foreign products. In the past years, increasingly more foreign companies have opened their eyes to the many opportunities available in the Chinese market.
Recently, the Chinese government has also informed that it will become easier for small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) to import into China, thanks to new regulations.
With that said, exporting food products to China can be challenging for companies that have no or little experience in the market. Therefore, I have written this article where we cover the following topics:
- Why is the demand for food imports increasing in China?
- What food products are in demand in China?
- Import Values for Various Food Products
- Stricter Chinese Quality Standards Call for Awareness
- Biggest Exporters of Food to China
- Regulations when Exporting Food to China
- Labeling Requirements when Exporting Food to China
- How can I ship my food products to China?
- Food Fairs and Tradeshows in China
Why is the demand for food imports increasing in China?
Many people wonder why the imports of food have increased much in China in the past years.
First of all, its middle class has grown much in the past years and will continue to do so. With a population that’s around 1.4 billion people, it’s natural that a large amount of people tends to appreciate foreign products over time, at the same time as wealth increases.
With higher disposable incomes, increased appetite for foreign high-quality products, and a higher online presence, it’s not strange why the opportunities increase for foreign companies.
The Younger Chinese Generation Drives the Demand for Food Products
Younger and middle-aged people have especially started to appreciate foreign food. If you go for a Friday dinner, your friends might ask if you’re up for a meal at the Japanese Yakiniku restaurant close by or having American mini burgers.
The trend is shifting in China, giving foreign exporters great opportunities.
China Becomes More Online Based
The Chinese frequently use online services when buying different services and consumer goods.
Paying for taxis, groceries and haircuts with your cell phone is just a normal thing now. Ordering food through sites like Ele.me is convenient.
With a number of online supermarkets available, like Epermarket, it’s become easy to get all the foreign groceries you need, delivered to your front door. Do you miss cheese? Go to Epermarket. Need some olive oil? You know my answer.
Example of a Small Company Exporting to China
A company that has managed to penetrate the Chinese food market is Millu, which is a Swedish owned brand, started by two twins in their 30’s.
The reason why I know this company is because the owners are from the same hometown as me. A small city in Sweden with roughly 60.000 people.
This is just proof that small companies can manage to export products in Asia, and specifically China, as long as you do your research, build up a network, and put in the work and time needed.
Establish an Online Presence
As you can see, even if Millu focus mainly on exports to China, they have a website in Swedish, promoting products to the Swedish (and other European) markets.
The truth is that you need to show that you have an established brand and a reputable website, before entering the Chinese market.
The Chinese do their due diligence and online research, they won’t simply buy foreign products just for the sake of it.
What food products are in demand in China?
While some food products are in higher demand in China, it doesn’t mean that you’re cut off from exporting other types of food.
The following products are most popular in China with a market growing almost 15 fold in the past decade.
Foreign meat is one of the most sought after products in China. Not only wealthy people look for substitutes for local meat, but also the growing middle class.
In fact, the Chinese don’t know much about local meat production, as scandals and information is often covered up by the state media.
It’s also well-known that cattle and livestock have higher levels of antibiotics and other chemicals, compared to places like Australia, Japan, the US, and Europe.
‘Aussie Beef’, Japanese fish, and chicken feet from Europe are just some examples of products in demand.
It doesn’t come as a surprise that dairy products are in big demand as well.
With a number of scandals the past years, like the melamine scandal in 2008 that resulted in the deaths of babies and infants, Chinese do everything conceivable trying to buy baby products locally or abroad.
And they are willing to pay much.
Nowadays, you can even find websites like Daigou, where people outside of China brings food from abroad and sell it online in China.
Empty shelves in Hong Kong
If you go to Hong Kong, it’s not rare that shelves with milk powder and other food products are empty, as people from the mainland go there to buy for their own family, or simply to sell online.
Cheese is also becoming increasingly popular as the Chinese have started to appreciate Western food.
Mozzarella cheese from Italy, Brie cheese from France, or cheddar cheese from the US can be seen in Carrefour, Walmart, or government-owned stores, like Ole, which only sells imported food.
Fish and Seafood
Even if the best caviar comes from China, and they’re a big exporter of crayfish to Europe, fish and seafood is in high demand.
Norwegian salmon and Japanese squid are not the only products in demand, in fact, China imports a lot of fish from countries like Mexico.
Keep in mind that Chinese food contains a lot of oil (compared to Thai food or Vietnamese food for example). There’s an easy way for restaurants or street vendors to reduce costs by using recycled oil (even if this is not a common practice).
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits are imported in vast amounts. Apples from Japan, avocados from Mexico, or durian from Thailand are appreciated by the Chinese.
Regulations on the number of pesticides that farmers can use are not as strict as many other countries, like in the EU (which is controlled by EU regulations). Stricter regulations also apply in places like the US and Japan.
The fact is that: for some farmers, it’s natural to follow the local regulations and use a bit more pesticides, as you can increase your harvest and earn more money.
There’s a vast amount of food that is sold as preserves in China. Canned tomatoes, beans, foie gras, and corn are just a number of examples.
A benefit of preserves is that these products have a long expiry date and are fairly easy to transport over long distances.
I’ve personally witnessed how foreign liquors have become increasingly popular in China.
Scotch whiskey, German Weissbier, and French wine can be seen in most shops and restaurants in the medium-sized and bigger cities nowadays.
Craft beer is also on the rise and you’ll find many local bars serving their own beer. Bottle shops can also be seen in large as well as smaller cities. Simply put, you pick your own beers from refrigerators and consume them at the store, which is a mix between a shop and a bar.
Import Values for Various Food Products
As of 2017, the import values for different food products were as follows in China (in billions of US dollars):
- Meat: 10.21
- Edible oil: 10.19
- Dairy products: 8.52
- Aquatic products: 8.50
- Grain products: 5.19
- Alcoholic beverage: 4.80
- Candy: 2.42
- Non-alcoholic Beverages: 2.08
- Dried nuts: 1.17
- Pastry and cookie: 0.83
- Others: 4.37
It’s surprising that edible oils rank so high in comparison to alcoholic beverages and dairy products, for example.
Tougher Chinese Quality Standards for Food
Regulations get stricter for imports of food as higher quality standards are introduced by the Chinese government. If you don’t follow the local regulations, you might end up with unsaleable products that either need to be sent back or destroyed.