China has experienced rapid development and urbanisation over the past decade, resulting in remarkable developments in shopping and eating habits. With consumers embracing busier lifestyles which demand convenience, rising awareness of nutrition and the advance of modern marketing techniques, there is greater demand for packaged food.
Convenience, quality, appearance and safety are now key considerations for consumers when shopping or eating. It is symbolised by the shift from wet markets to growing numbers of convenience stores and supermarkets or even hypermarkets as modern distribution channels.
As a result of these trends, China’s food and packaging industries are rapidly evolving to meet growing demand.
Chinese consumers are also more concerned about food safety, and as they become better informed require extra nutrition and ingredient information provided in food packaging. Food manufacturing and packaging companies need to actively address these trends by collaborating closely to deliver the best tailored innovations and solutions that meet consumers’ raised expectations.
David Bay, Perth, Australia
For example, more than half of Chinese urban households now own a microwave oven and it is the second most commonly found item at home (after refrigerators). Demand for the fast-heating ovens can only grow now that more than 90 percent of households in developed economies, such as the US, have microwaves.
The food packaging industry is responding to this phenomenon with the provision of microwaveable packaging, as well as innovations allowing frozen or shelf stable meals to go from the freezer or cupboard to the microwave oven with minimal effort from the consumer.
Responding to these fast-moving changes in market dynamics, innovations from developed markets are introduced with adaption for local Chinese requirements.
Processors can now offer microwaveable retort pouches featuring ready meal, steam-in-bag flavour and convenience with microwavable packaging solutions. A film with seal-vent technology can withstand temperatures high enough to heat prepared meals or vegetables, while also maintaining a hermetic seal throughout distribution. These films self-vent during the cooking process, leaving no mess for consumers to clean up, while also preventing contamination.
Poise For GrowthThe prize for processors and food packaging manufacturers who get their products right is significant. China is expected to become the world’s largest packaged food market in the near future, and was the third biggest in the world in 2008, according to a Canadian government assessment.
Average annual growth in retail sales of packaged food between 2003 and 2008 was 11.3 percent as the assessment has advised. By 2010, sales in the Chinese packaged food market were valued at US$124 billion and expected to grow by 51 percent in value from 2011 to 2015.
Consumers in China are looking for more than convenience in the shift from wet markets to hypermarkets and convenience stores. Traditionally price has been the highest priority for shoppers, but with lifestyles changing, they are now also looking for more diverse choices in terms of functionality and quality of packaging.
At premium supermarkets in cities with higher incomes such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, high-end consumers are reported to be less price sensitive. Wealthier, better educated consumers are more concerned about product healthiness and quality.
Small pack sizes are also becoming increasingly popular as consumers want convenient-to-carry food and beverage products and retailers offer fast turnover distribution channels.
Convenient Food Storage
Food, Fash, Fit, UK
Now, it is being sold in the refrigerated sections of supermarkets in sealed packages which provide convenient food storage for consumers and significant advantages for our customer in terms of shelf life and supply chain sterility.
This advanced packaging technology uses unique multilayer structures of packaging films to deliver consistent, peelable seals on every package and guarantee consistent hermetic sealing with an easy open feature for added consumer convenience.
The shelf life of duck necks have also been extended due to the package providing an excellent oxygen barrier. With unique technological and manufacturing advantages, the package is convenient for consumers and ultimately eliminates the frustration arising from hard to open packages.
Food safety is top-of-mind for Chinese consumers. Recent food contamination scandals have damaged consumer confidence in the food supply chain, but manufacturers and distributors are working rapidly to significantly improve the infrastructure and controls across China.
Shelf Life ExtensionImproving the supply chain also requires upgrading the packaging to take maximum advantage of the gains in infrastructure. Higher barrier materials will improve product protection, so the costs associated with infrastructure development can be recouped through reduced product spoilage in distribution.
Higher barrier materials will also extend product shelf life, reducing the amount of wastage at retail. In the end, better distribution will lead to less wastage, better packaging and higher consumer satisfaction.
Marketing and consumers’ preferences for products with appeal are also part of the revolution in shopping and eating. Aisles full of packaged products and goods competing for the attention of consumers at sales points have led to a rise in colourful and inventive packaging.
Chestnut PouchIn an application example, a special packaging has been developed in the shape of its main product—chestnuts. It is a long way from the markets where chestnuts have traditionally been sold in trays or woks. The chestnut-shaped retort pouch is efficient to manufacture, provides cost advantages to the customer as it allows the product to be cooked inside the packaging and drives excitement with consumers for the benefit of the brand.
The retort pouch was developed in response to the customer’s request to improve brand image and make products more recognisable. Shaped like a chestnut, the package immediately tells the consumer what they are looking at and delivers a pleasing packaging experience through stand up convenience and easy opening features.
There are other new packaging technologies on the horizon for Chinese consumers as well. A top consumer complaint in China is hard to open packaging. When a package is difficult to open, the consumer often ends up using their teeth to open a package or in extreme cases, spilling the contents on themselves.
The transfer of an opening technology to China and will enable local consumers to recognise the benefits of easy to open packages using this technology. The packaging solution uses a unique, low cost technology to create a tear initiation point in the package.
Once the consumer initiates the tear, the technology causes the package to open in a very straight line, something which consumers recognise as a signal of high quality, convenient packaging.
Consumers are benefitting too from upgrading their shopping to convenience stores and supermarkets. Food sold in wet markets is unpackaged and unlabelled.
Since the start of this year, the country’s Ministry of Health has implemented regulations requiring food packaging labels to provide standard nutritional information. They cover nutritional elements such as protein, fat, carbohydrate and sodium. Food processors will need to ensure packaging carries this information.
Shoppers, as they become more sophisticated and their incomes rise, are demanding more in terms of food products. Convenience and quality, food safety, longer shelf life, visual appeal and strong brands are now top of mind.
Food manufacturing and packaging companies need to collaborate to capture the opportunities and meet the expectations of this fast-changing market.