2 May 2018
China’s Packaged Food Market: Consumer Snack Preferences
- Chart: Snacks Purchased in Past Three Months
- Table: Snacks purchased in past three months (by city)
- Table: Snacks purchased in past three months (by gender, age and income)
- Snack Purchase Criteria
- Table: Design of Focus Groups
- Table: Design of Online Questionnaire Survey
- Table: Average Monthly Household Income of Respondents
- Table: Marital Status of Respondents, by City
- Table: Education Level of Respondents, by City
- Table: Occupation of Respondents, by City
Today, a wide variety of snacks are available on the market. Respondents in the recent HKTDC Research survey on the mainland packaged food market  had bought an average of 6.14 types of snacks in the three months preceding the survey. That’s a significant increase on the figure of 4.66 in a similar 2013 survey. Among the different types of snacks, the purchase frequency of nuts is the highest, while the overall purchase frequency of most types of snacks has also increased, indicating that the market as a whole is expanding. In buying snacks, “health” is one of consumers’ top three consideration factors, while the importance they attach to “manufacturing date and expiry date” and “packaging design” has also increased.
Roasted Nuts Prove Overall Favourite
The survey found that consumers are, in general, buying snacks more frequently, with 83% saying that their purchase frequency has increased over the past two to three years. The respondents purchased an average of 6.14 types of snacks in the three months preceding the survey, a considerable increase on the figure of 4.66 in a similar 2013 survey. Among the different types of snacks, the purchase frequency of “roasted nuts and seeds” was the highest, with 73% of respondents having purchased such snacks in the preceding three months, a rate higher than the 60% recorded in the 2013 survey. Second was “biscuits and cakes” (72%), with their purchase frequency having dropped from 83% in 2013.
In the focus group discussions, it was discovered that dried fruit has gained popularity as a snack in the last two years, mainly because respondents believe that dried fruit is not only healthy but also nutritious. Some of them were eager to taste the dried version of certain highly perishable fruits (both from other parts of China and foreign countries) that cannot otherwise be kept fresh when transported over long distances. The survey found that 48% of respondents had bought “fruit / vegetable chips” in the preceding three months, with 23% of them saying that their purchase frequency had increased. Clearly, this kind of snack is gaining favour.
Female consumers tend to buy more biscuits and cakes, puffed snacks, fruit / vegetable chips, drink sachets, and puddings / jellies. Young respondents are more eager to buy cooked food, puffed snacks, fruit / vegetable chips, and puddings / jellies. High-income earners are frequent buyers of fruit / vegetable chips.
Snack Purchase Criteria
The survey found that the top three factors that consumers take into consideration when buying snacks are texture and flavour, brand and word-of-mouth recommendations, and the manufacturing date and expiry date. However, compared with 2013, the importance attached to texture and flavour, raw materials used, and price has declined markedly. At the same time, the attention paid to manufacturing date and expiry date, packaging design / small packs / convenient and hygienic, new products / new flavours, and quality certification has increased significantly.
Among the top three considerations when buying snacks, “health” has replaced “raw materials used”, indicating that the healthy nature of the snack has become one of consumers’ foremost consideration factors. This is probably also the reason why “roasted nuts and seeds” are the most popular category while “fruit / vegetable chips” are also widely sought out.
Thanks to rapid urbanisation and rising incomes, China’s packaged food market has grown steadily over recent years. Today, mainland consumers place more emphasis on “food safety” and “healthy diet”. A more westernised lifestyle also has an impact on packaged food market development, offering opportunities for Hong Kong and international brands keen to enter or further expand into the mainland market.
The economic and social environment on the mainland has undergone significant change over recent years. To provide a useful reference for Hong Kong companies interested in venturing into the mainland market, HKTDC Research conducted a consumer survey in October 2017 to gauge the changes in consumer preferences, spending mentality and trends of the mainland packaged food market. This updates the findings of a similar study commissioned in 2013.
Packaged foods consist of numerous varieties. The survey covers five major categories, namely dairy products, seasoning products and sauces, snacks, grains, oils and dried products, and convenience food (including chilled and frozen food).
The survey was carried out during October 2017 in 10 major mainland cities. A total of 2,400 consumers were polled by online questionnaire. Before conducting the questionnaire survey, six consumer focus group discussions were held in Shanghai, Wuhan and Chengdu (two in each city). The objective of the focus group discussions was to further understand mainland consumers’ spending mentality by way of qualitative analysis.
 See Appendix for details of the survey. See China’s Packaged Food Market: Major Consumer Trends, China’s Packaged Food Market: Defining Characteristics (Part 1) and China’s Packaged Food Market: Defining Characteristics (Part 2) for details of major consumer trends and characteristics of the market.