Chinese ‘Mintropolitans’ go nuts over healthy snacking, say researchers

In China's snack market, nuts and seeds is the largest category as the focus on health and nutrition continues to dictate, says Mintel. Pic: ©iStock/Amarita

According to Mintel data, 63% of Chinese consumers are eating more fresh fruits and vegetables as snacks; 42% are eating more dairy-based snacks; and one in four is consuming more nuts and seeds.

Consumers’ busier lifestyles are causing them to squeeze mealtimes, thus having an impact on the snack market, Ching Yang, senior food and drink analyst at Mintel, told BakeryandSnacks.

However, “the country’s new Chinese Dietary Guidelines (2016) suggests the lower daily intake of salt and sugar, which is making consumers more cautious of indulging,” said Yang.

“Though sugar tax has yet to happen in China, it has been a hot topic in the global food and drink industry.

“Consumers are now more aware and have growing nutritional and food safety concerns, especially since information has become more transparent and accessible,” she added.

 “They are increasingly concerned about the potential harm some ingredients in snacks can do to their bodies, for example, MSG (monosodium glutamate) in salty snacks, and unhealthy or insanitary processing methods.

“This may explain why more consumers are now switching to fresh and less processed snacks, such as nuts and seeds,” she told us.

The rise of low cal; the decline of sweet

Mintel’s report reveals that in China’s retail snack market, nuts and seeds is the largest category, with a retail value of RMB 263.7bn ($38.24bn). The segment is forecast to grow at a CAGR of 10.7%, reaching RMB 345.6bn ($50.11bn) in 2020.

On the flip side, the growth of traditional sweet snacks, such as biscuits, was relatively slower. Mintel’s research indicates that 26% of urban Chinese consumers are also eating less chocolate confectionery today compared to six months ago.

This suggests a growing opportunity for food and drinks brands that enjoy a healthy perception (e.g. dietary supplements, cereals and yogurt) to tap into the snacking occasion by developing snack format products.

“Our research shows that Chinese females are concerned with calories, while Chinese males care about protein,” said Yang.

Mintel Gobal GNPD, one quarter of snack products launched in China between 2014 and 2016 were meat- or seafood-based snacks, such as fish crackers and dried squid.

Well-heeled snackers

Mintel’s data flags Chinese consumers with a busier lifestyle – such as full-time employees and Mintropolitans (China’s well-educated and high-earning elites) – as the biggest snackers.

 “One of the key drivers’ for China’s snack market is consumers’ high interest levels in and easier access to international or imported snacks,” said Yang, noting that 42% of Chinese consumers are interested in trying snacks they’ve never tasted before.

She added: “E-commerce is an especially important channel for international snacks.

“It not only allows consumers to easily access the foreign snacks market but also provides a less costly channel for international players to enter the Chinese market.

“Overall, we’ve seen rapid expansion among China’s e-commerce snack brands like Three Squirrels, Bai Cao Wei, and Liang Pin Pu Zi.

“Many of them started with the nuts and seeds category before expanding into biscuits, meat-based snacks, dried fruits and traditional sweet pastries within a couple of years.

“They are enjoying high brand penetration especially among young consumers,” said Yang.

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