Fridges boost China chilled foods market

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The consumption of chilled foods in China has been limited by a
lack of refrigerators. That is until the last few years, when
rising incomes and the increasing every day use of cooling
equipment has started to bring about a dramatic shift in the eating
patterns of the average Chinese family, as the latest report from
Access Asia testifies.

As a consumer societyemerges in China, so new products are appearing with increasing regularity. Chilledfoods are among them.With the value of fridge purchases increasing by over 50 per cent since 1997,increased exposure to western and international cuisines and a greater arrayof goods in the supermarket are all combining to increase sales of chilledfoods in China, the Access Asia​ report on Chilled Foods in China says.

Historically, chilled goods have been restricted by the lack of widespreadownership of refrigerators, and the common habit of buying fresh produceon a daily basis from wet market, rather than buying weekly and storing at home for later use - a pattern appeared for reasons of convenience and the quest for greater variety.

Proof of the staggering growth rate in the chilled foods sector is seen by comparing the change in the market during the course of the last six years. In 2003 sales of chilled foods stood at CNY 10.25 billion (€1.02bn), a jump of 93.26 per cent since 1997, with the volume of food in the sector growing by a similar 97.29 per cent to 674,030 tonnes since 1996.

However, the total share of chilled foods still remains relatively insignificant, compared the market for food as a whole. The Access Asia report highlights that in 1997 chilled foods accounted for 0.38 per cent of total food sales, whereas in 2003 this figure had only risen to 0.46 per cent.

Industry experts, though acknowledging that the chilled food market in China is still relatively tiny, stress the fact that the rapid growth of this small sector indicates that it won't stay small for long, providing economic stability is sustained in the country. Although many areas of the China consumer market do appear to be cooling down recently, this is one category that is likely to continue experience steep growth.

Breaking the categories down for chilled foods in the country, the Access Asia report highlights chilled desserts as having that fastest rate of growth, rising 107.9 per cent in the period 1997 to 2003 to reach a total value of CNY 693.4 million. Although this remains the smallest category, the rate of growth was in turn the highest.

Following closely behind chilled desserts came ready meals. The value of sales in this category grew by 102.5 per cent for the same six year period to reach CNY 3.36 billion, allowing it to sustain its position as the second largest category in the market.

The biggest sector remains the chilled fish market. Much of the Chinese population is located far away from fresh supplies of fish, which led to the relatively early development of the chilled fish category. Currently this category is valued at CNY 5.5 billion, with sales growth of 89 per cent in the past six years.

Looking at specific reasons for the growth as whole, Access Asia points out that the arrival of the fast-food chains, western-style supermarkets, greater awareness of chilled foods and the emergence of a generation both willing and able to try new products has meant that the market for chilled foods has made great strides in China.

Additionally, chilled foods are spreading throughout the retail chain withadditional chill cabinets in hypermarkets, supermarkets and conveniencestores, particularly in the larger, and wealthier, coastal cities.

Ultimately it is the increasingly busy lifestyles of urban Chinese in particular, that has led to an increased demand for convenience foods, such as chilled ready meals. Also, an increasing number of people are finding it difficult to go shopping forfood each day, and so more people are now buying foods for use anotherday, leading to an increased acceptance of refrigerated food use.

Following the patterns of western consumers, the reports findings point to a sector that will continue to grow significantly, introducting increasingly diverse eating patterns to the once fiercely traditional and conservative Chinese lifestyle.

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