Health is the new wealth in China

A significant amount of the Chinese population lives by the adage “health is the most precious asset”. After all, you need health to appreciate, enjoy, and to some extent, flaunt your wealth. As their income steadily rises, Chinese consumers, especially the more affluent individuals, are becoming more choice-conscious and pursuing healthy and nutritious foods. Thus, many are avoiding ingredients, additives, and foods that are recognized as unhealthy or harmful, such as salt, monosodium glutamate (MSG), and sugar. According to a study by Kitchen Stories in 2019, a remarkable 95% of the people in China stated that they had read the nutritional information and/or ingredients while grocery shopping. This shows that for many consumers, food has gone beyond just curbing hunger—it plays a crucial role in helping Chinese consumers make informed choices.

Chinese consumers are not only averting unhealthy products but are also proactively seeking better options. Because organic foods, for example, are often regarded as having higher nutritional values, their purchase has been on the rise. In a survey conducted in 2019, over 40% of Chinese consumers indicated that they had spent more than 50% of their budget in organic foods, and another 28% of them said they had filled their shopping cart with an average of 10-50% organic items. The demand for organic products is undeniable and growing in China with local consumers at the forefront of this trend as evidenced by their purchasing behavior.

Another reason why Chinese consumers are keeping a close eye on their diet is that some of the medical conditions that were once associated with the elderly, such as hair loss, hypertension, diabetes, and chronic diseases are emerging in younger individuals. Advice on how eating quality food fixes many health issues is often circulated by friends, family, or the internet. For instance, consuming natural foods high in protein and loaded with vitamins, such as eggs, berries, and nuts, has been proven to prevent unnecessary hair loss and promote hair growth. The belief that nutrition is the solution to any health problem is deeply entrenched in Chinese consumers’ minds, leading them to progressively turn to alternative food options to take matters into their own hands.

Food safety is reshaping Chinese consumers’ food purchasing behavior

In addition to willfully including more healthy and nutritious foods in their diet, Chinese consumers are also becoming more mindful about food safety as a result of a series of notorious food safety incidents in China. Eggs contaminated with toxic melamine in 2008, fake green beans in 2010, and expired meats that were sold globally in 2014, to name a few, still send chills down their spines. Such scandals have effectively changed the food consumption pattern of Chinese consumers, with 82% indicating they are willing to pay a premium for quality foods that are safe to eat, which is significantly higher than the global average of 68%.

This is not to say that, Chinese consumers blindly pay more for food safety. There are different safety cues they look for, such as the quality of manufacturer, producer, production and breeding technology, when deciding where to buy their food. They will only pay a premium for high quality and food safety when the information about product origins are verified and come from a trusted authority. In short, gaining consumer trust in a market full of sceptics is no easy feat, but brands that can successfully win the trust of Chinese consumers by abiding by these principles will ultimately come out on top.

Chinese consumers are riding out COVID-19 by shifting grocery shopping online and being more cautious about their food choices

With the COVID-19 situation since late 2019 and the various consequential measures the Chinese government has imposed to contain the virus spread, Chinese consumers’ purchasing behavior and attitude towards food have been shaken up again. First, Chinese consumers have resorted to new shopping habits. In fact, nearly 50% of them deliberately shifted their food shopping from offline to online channels, which is one of the highest amongst the surveyed countries. Major food e-commerce and online-to-offline platforms have also reported user growth increase by 50 – 200%. This is largely attributed to consumers attempting to minimize contact with one another as well as the chance of contracting the highly contagious coronavirus by staying at home.

Secondly, many Chinese consumers are rethinking food safety. Questions on whether the foods they eat are safe, or if the foods, especially the ones with an unknown source, could have been tainted with the novel virus are on the rise. In this critical time, Chinese consumers, like the rest of us, are trying to err on the side of caution to make the right choices to stay healthy, and consumer trust and transparency are at the core of this equation. Brands who are able to solve this conundrum will not only overtake their competitors but will also thrive in the market post COVID-19.

Food brands must invest in their e-commerce channels and disseminate marketing messages that resonate with the Chinese consumers to win

So, how should food brands adapt to the current China market to navigate through and ultimately thrive in this chaos? While there is no answer as to when COVID-19 will end, the online food shopping habit of the Chinese consumers will likely persist and become the new norm. Brands who do not have online presence must invest in their e-commerce channels now to remain relevant, and brands who have already tapped into the online realm must continue to bolster their digital presence through online marketing efforts to diminish the impact of losses on their offline channels.

On the other hand, to address consumers’ concerns over health and food safety, brands must also put more effort into creating compelling content that resonates with the Chinese consumers. For starters, brands must adapt marketing messages to show their target audience that they prioritize the health, safety, and well-being of consumers over profits, as well as establish a brand image as one that is here to offer support, information, and consolation through these difficult times. Understanding and connecting with consumers on an emotional level will enable brands to stand out and gain market share in this competitive landscape.

Are you a consumer who is trying to lead an organic lifestyle and choosing healthier, greener, or more natural options? Or, are you a brand who would like to reach China’s largest online community of organic consumers? Orghive, a social and content platform where users can verify product authenticity, share content, and connect with other users and brands, is here to help you get started on your organic, healthy lifestyle.

Schedule a demo with us today and learn how OrgHive will transform your brand in China.

Miranda Cheuk

Author Miranda Cheuk

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