According to a report by the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, as a result of increased disposal income, urbanization and food safety concerns, consumers in China are consuming more U.S. food products. While the Chinese economy has slowed this past year, it is still growing faster than any other major economy.
The report found that, in response to rising inflation and food safety concerns, more Chinese people are cutting back on eating out and are now cooking more and more at home. Consumers of imported food are generally expatriates and high and upper-middle income locals. They are least affected by inflation and pay great attention to food safety. Consumption of western style products continues to grow as they generally are regarded as good quality, nutritious and safe. Some products, such as fresh fruit, frozen vegetables and nuts, have much deeper penetration, and some supermarkets and convenience stores are becoming more interested in imported products. Rapid economic growth has caused the total U.S. dollar sales value of food and beverages to rise by 26.2 percent to $132 billion in 2008.
In terms of China’s infrastructure, retail distribution channels have not grown to match the number and quality of retail outlets. China does not have a nationwide network of trucks, highways and cold storage warehouses that can efficiently deliver supplies from the manufacturer or importer to the store shelf. A lack of appreciation for the value of maintaining the cold chain creates special problems for temperature sensitive items. With some notable exceptions, distribution is handled on a store-by-store or city-by-city basis, with stores receiving most imports through a local distributor, often even when alternatives exist.
In the retail sector, while some domestic retailers (including CRV-China Resources Vanguard and Lianhua) have a significant presence, this format is dominated by foreign operators including Carrefour, Wal-Mart, Metro, Lotus, Auchan and Tesco. In Shanghai for example, the 82 foreign hypermarkets accounted for 78.6 percent of the total hypermarket sales volume in 2008. Other retail channels, most notably supermarkets, are highly fragmented and controlled by domestic players.
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