The meat market in China is the second-largest market sector in the country’s retail food market and the second-largest fresh meat market in the world, reaching $74.88 billion in 2022. And in terms of purchasing habits, Chinese people consume now more and more meat than ever before. Thanks to meat imports, Chinese consumers now have a wider selection of meat products.
In this article, we’ll highlight the main fact concerning the meat retail industry and will explain the process to be followed to sell meat in China.
Overview of China’s meat market
According to Statista, the revenue in the Chinese meat market accounted for $74.88 billion in 2022 and is predicted to reach $181.92 billion in 2027, with an annual growth rate of 19.42%. China represents 50% of the pork imports from European Union. In fact, China is the first importer of pork and sheep meat in the world and the second when it comes to beef.
Although the market is second when it comes to revenues, China lags well behind from many countries from Europe, Latin America or US in terms of per capita meat consumption. Only three out of four people say they eat meat (data from 2021), and the reason is the fact that meat was always treated more like a luxury in the Chinese diet and not everyone can afford to buy fresh meat. But thanks to the growth of China’s middle class, the meat consumption is predicted to grow.
Moreover, 98% of meat imports in the volume is controlled by a few countries in China:
In terms of consumption
In 2026, Chinese people are expected to consume 55kg of meat per year (+10% compared to 2017). Meat consumption is gradually increasing, as more people can afford to buy pork, beef or poultry.
When it comes to favorite meat in China, it’s definitely pork, that has been present in the Chinese diet since always. China is the world’s largest pork producer, consumer and importer. According to Statista, the world’s largest pork livestock production company, Smithfield from US, was bought by the Chinese company WH Group in 2013 to accommodate China’s demand for this important source.
According to some reports, volumes of meat imported by China should rise while the ASF (African Swine Fever, a fatal pig disease) outbreaks have reduced the global pig herd by more than 25% in 2018-2019 and around 60% of the hog herd in China. As a consequence, China’s demand for pork has increased the price of pig meat in the global market. In the EU, suppliers even noticed an increase of almost 30% in prices.
Distribution channels of fresh meat in China
Good news for the food industry! A new distribution system has been set up. Indeed, China improved a lot its distribution system, resulting in expanding transportation networks. Some improvements very welcomed in the industry as it led to an important development of regional trade in fresh meat but also processed meats.
Processed meat products are mainly sold in supermarkets and hypermarkets, while fresh meat products are mainly sold on the open markets or street vendors. But many young people are more inclined to purchase food, including meat, online, which creates a perfect opportunity for foreign brands. Online sales of meat account for almost 30%.
Supermarket & hypermarket turned out to become the main retailers of processed meats (especially frozen and chilled products). Which suits perfectly the needs of urban consumers as they are getting bigger income, and are therefore more willing to buy expensive cuts of meat, which lead to increase demand for variety and quality product, like imported beef, pork, poultry, lamb and fish.
While in occidental countries of Asia, governments are more and more questioning the consumption level of meat and its effect on people’s health, emerging countries are consuming more meat than ever. Which is a great opportunity for food retailers to export their meat products to China!
Changing meat consumption habits in China
In China only 5% of population is vegan and although the trend is growing, especially in the major cities like Shanghai or Shenzhen, few million metric tons of meat were sold every year in the past decade. But, when it comes to an increased health awareness, poultry production and consumption have increased, along with the consumption of fish, that are perceived more healthy than red meat.
In 2021, more than one-third of Chinese consumers described themselves as selective meat-eaters. Processed meat and cured meat were deemed unhealthy and were therefore, avoided by many families in China. China also has joined the plant-based trend and many Chinese consumers are interested to try plant-based meat equivalents.
To resume the situation in China toward the meat market
- Average meat consumption per inhabitant is increasing
- China needs more meat than before and can’t produce all of it by itself, so the country needs to rely heavily on production from other countries
- The ASF led to an important rise in pork meat importation due to many dead pigs
- Increase in the demand for variety and good quality products
- Improvement of the distribution system makes sales easier
Following this, you’ll understand that there is now a real opportunity for importers in the meat retail industry in China.
How to sell meat in China?
To sell meat in China, it’s best to integrate both online and offline sales. Before selling meat or any other product in the Chinese market, it’s important to work on branding and e-reputation. Due to many scandals with food quality, Chinese consumers are super cautious when it comes to fresh meat purchases, so they won’t buy from a brand they never heard of.
Online sales of meat in China
Online sales are probably the easiest way to make money in China. And here are some reasons why:
- Chinese people are always looking for products to buy online, even food.
- Easy to buy. Your potential clients can buy your products from anywhere. They’ll just need access to a phone or computer.
- If they are satisfied, they’ll buy from you again.
- If you’re turning out to sell a lot of products on an E-commerce Platform, offline distributors will contact you by themselves.
To distribute your product online, you’ll get two ways to operate:
- Cross-border E-commerce (Tmall Global, JD Global, etc.)
- Chinese E-commerce platforms (Taobao, Tmall, JD.com, Pinduoduo etc.)
Cross-border e-commerce options for meat exporters
Cross-border is about the importation of goods through sellers from foreign countries. Let’s see how to sell your product through this model.
As an online e-commerce business model, you’ll need to have a platform. The main ones in China are currently Tmall Global and JD Global. Once you decide which platform you want to operate with, you’ll just need to set it up. Here’s the process:
- Pay a deposit
- Build a nice store
- Advertise a lot (at the beginning)
- Pay commission per sales
- Pay daily operation management (high cost)
- Need an active marketing campaign
The good part of cross-border e-commerce is that you don’t need to have a Chinese business license or any certification. The main disadvantage is that it’s pretty expensive.
Selling through Chinese e-commerce platforms
If you have the possibility to establish your business directly in China, and therefore get a Chinese business license and the required certifications, you can use Chinese e-commerce platforms such as Taobao, Tmall, JD.com, etc.
It’s cheaper than cross-border and the time to deliver your product is faster. The main problem is that you’ll need to understand Chinese or hire someone that can deal with it on your behalf. Because all the stores will be in Chinese. Otherwise, the process to open your store is similar to the one for a cross-border platform.
- Build a store, design pages
- Advertise it
- Participate in special events (double 11, 618, 12/12, etc.)
- Manage daily operations
- Store supported by your branding
Offline Sales – how to reach Chinese distributors?
Working with distributors is a basic model and a very common channel for companies to expand to new markets.
How does it work?
You give a percentage of your sales revenue (usually around 50%) in exchange for local distributors to handle the sales on your behalf. According to your product fame and negotiation process, distributors can eventually purchase your inventory so that you’ll get bottom-line benefits and will be able to sell even few million metric tons of meat annually.
What does that mean for you?
They do the job for you meaning, less profit margin and surely more concerns about quality control and branding… Distributors usually don’t market your brand. If your product already works, they’ll sell it well. If not, your product will be queuing behind the best sellers.
Be sure that distributors have already signed different companies offering the same type of product as yours. And they only care about the one showing results. If you lack a reputation in China, distributors won’t give you much attention.
What solution do you have using distributors?
- The exclusive Distributor
We don’t recommend it. Complicated to deal with. They are your suppliers, not partners, and once they’ll get the certification and authorization to represent your company in China, they may change their way of dealing with you. Keep in mind that they’ll put their interest before yours.
Also, they don’t have the knowledge to build your brand. They can find resellers or more generally distribute your product pretty fast but won’t do any effort into your branding.
It’s a good strategy. You can control the distribution process and it’ll allow you a good presence in China, your own registration in the country, and strong branding.
With this model, you’ll deal directly with distributors, agents, and resellers and it will lead your company to a higher conversion rate.
- Direct distribution
You sell and deliver the product by yourself. You’re in total control of operations. You won’t face the costs for intermediary but will have important upfront costs (shops + warehouse).
From now on, you have some highlights on which distribution channel you can choose to export your products to China. Online or Offline. Two strategies can be chosen apart from each other or combined for more results, depending on your investment capacities.
However, you need to know that getting access to distributors in China is not easy.
Distributors will only distribute famous brands or brands with a lot of sales. They don’t want to waste time on branding (and most of them don’t know how to do it). So, they will distribute the first brands that will allow them to make good money.
Even if they agree to work with you, if nobody knows you in China, they won’t make any effort and won’t work on your brand. Therefore, you’ll need to develop a new marketing strategy to sell products to distributors.
Tips on how to promote your brand in China
The answer to promoting your brand in China is online. Chinese people, even if they decide to purchase some products in supermarkets or local shops, they like to check some information about a company, its products and reviews online.
Mind your E-reputation
In China, whoever you decide to establish a commercial relationship with, they’ll check on you on social media. Whether it’s distributors, customers, or future partners, they’ll all check your online reputation.
For a long time, China suffered from its bad reputation for fake products, fake brands, and counterfeit and bad quality food. But from now on, China’s economic actors pay real attention to who they deal with. And before doing anything, they’ll want to make sure that a trustful relationship can be established.
How to develop your reputation and make your company trustable to Chinese distributors?
Step 1. Let them know who you are through a Chinese website and good Baidu SEO
Baidu corresponds to the Chinese Google. Chinese netizens are always looking for information on it. If they have a problem: Baidu. If they’re looking for something: Baidu. If they want to buy your product but don’t know you: Baidu… following this, different actions will be required for you to develop your e-reputation on the Chinese browser.
- Baidu Zhidao & Zhihu: a good way to deliver information and introduce your company
- Baidu Baike: the Chinese Wikipedia. You’ll need to make your own page there. It’s a very important website in China. People trust it a lot.
- Public Relations: you’ll need articles talking about you. They want to see the media talking about how good are your products, how much the Chinese love them, and how reputed you are at an international level.
- Forums: you need to be present in different online discussions. People have to talk about you.
- Reviews/comments: when Chinese people are happy (or not) with a product, they post an online review/comment. And you’ll need plenty of them. As a result, when distributors will be looking for your brand, they’ll be happy to see that you’re trustworthy and that many people are already satisfied with your product.
And of course, on top of that, you need to have a Chinese website presenting your brand to the Chinese audience in their mother language. To be able to rank on the first page of search results in Baidu, you’ll need to host the website in Mainland China and focus on keywords optimization and so on, for good Baidu SEO.
Step 2. Use social media
Once they’ll know you are a real company selling good quality products, they’ll need to be sure that they can sell your products without any problems. And how to be sure of that? By checking how many people follow you, what do they think of you, if you already have people buying your products?
To develop a successful presence on Chinese social media to impress your distributor, you’ll need:
A very famous platform in China, with more than 1.26 billion monthly active users. Wechat is a messaging app that also offers many other features, like short-videos, mobile payments, official accounts with an option of sending newsletters to your followers. And, the most important – WeChat Shops, which are flagship stores of brands operating inside the WeChat app.
Here’s what you can do on the app:
- Create a company brochure and own store
- Spread marketing content
- Spread coupons/discounts to your followers
- Work on your community management
- Share different content formats
And many more. WeChat is a must-have in China and companies that are not present on the app are not trusted.
It’s a very popular social media in China. This tool will help you to reach your target audience and engage with potential customers. Due to the high visibility you can get on this platform, we recommend the use of KOL. A perfect way to build up and show your good reputation. KOLs are Chinese influencers, that are usually specialists in their field. You can work with some chefs, that will use your meat in Chinese recipes, sell your products via live-streaming and many more.
It’s a video sharing application. Very popular in China. Through this one, you can create video content and spread it to a wild audience. Moreover, you can also sell your product on the app. Fun & Intuitive, potential customers will love to interact with you there. It’s also a very good way to develop a KOL strategy.
We are GMA, a potential Partner for you
Selling anything in China requires a lot of work, as you need to build your online presence and reputation before even thinking of selling to Chinese consumers. If you manage to build your visibility and a strong reputation on Chinese social media and in Baidu, half of the job is done. You’ll get all the key elements to convince any distributors to sell your meat in China.
We are a China marketing agency with more than 10 years of experience. Our Chinese and foreign experts have the know-how and experience needed to succeed on this competitive market. There are many opportunities for meat sellers in China, but it’s important to have a good strategy in order to attract distributors and consumers to your products.
When it comes to food and beverage industry, we have helped many brands reach and exceed their goals in China. Some of our case studies include:
Do not hesitate to leave us a comment or contact us to schedule a free discovery consultation, where our F&B expert will learn about your brand and present you the best opportunities and solutions in the Chinese market.