Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, Chinese consumers’ lifestyles have changed dramatically which has caused a surge in the popularity of pre-cooked meals, otherwise known as the ready-meals. Consequently, the ready meals industry has become very attractive to investors who are hoping to leverage the strong demand among Chinese consumers.
The ready-to-eat sector accounted for 122.40 billion dollars in 2022, putting China on the spot as the world’s leader in the ready meals industry. In this blog post, we will take a look at the market dynamics to understand the growing popularity of such products, and see the opportunities for foreign brands in this sector.
Ready to Eat Meals in China in Numbers
As you could read in the introduction, China is the world’s leader when it comes to ready-made food. In 2022, the sales growth reached $122.40 billion, growing from $79.18 billion in 2018. With an estimated growth of 9.20% between 2022 and 2027, ready to eat food industry will reach $179.90 billion in 2026.
To put it in the perspective, China is way ahead of the game, with Japan taking second place, accounting for $62.04 billion in 2022. The growing demand, especially among young consumers in China can bring your company billion yuan in sales, and the Chinese market is the best place to invest, as the appetite for ready means is expected to grow even more in the long run.
What is the reason behind the ready-meals market’s sudden growth?
The ready-meals market in China has seen a sudden boom, driven by the increased demand for home cooking during the pandemic, especially among the younger generation, which is not used to cooking but wants to eat cooked food at home without ordering it from restaurant chains or other food delivery options.
Within the past two years, Chinese people have been living under restrictions and lockdowns due to Covid-19. Because of this massive change, many people got used to the routine. More Chinese consumers are now opting to stay home and cook their meals as opposed to going out to restaurants.
This shift has made pre-made food much more accessible to consumers who may not otherwise have the desire to try them at all. What is also important to understand is that young consumers in China are not used to cooking, always relying on food delivery or eating out, more than half of them don’t even have central kitchens in their apartments. This is why they opt for good quality, ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat food.
Who favors ready meals? The demographics of ready-meal consumers in China
A new generation of consumers is requesting healthier but also convenient dishes, which can be found in the form of pre-prepared meals. So who is driving the ready-to-heat or eat cooked food?
Young Chinese Consumers
Younger Chinese people do not prefer to spend long hours cooking at home. They are busy and they don’t have time for shopping, preparing or cleaning after. They are nutrition-conscious. Fast foods and noodle-based dishes are no longer their first preference. Other than delivery or takeaway, pre-cooked meals are becoming a better option for these groups of people.
The Elder Generation
The elderly who live alone often find it difficult to cook for themselves and appreciate having quick access to a meal that only needs to be reheated. These meals are similar to home-cooked dishes from raw materials but do not require as much time or effort (such as traditional thick soup, Chinese dumplings, and so on).
More young Chinese working mothers are in search of healthy, ready-made meals for their children. They want nutritious dinners for their families but don’t always have the time to cook from scratch every day. Instead of cooking a homemade meal every night, they can choose from a variety of delicious and healthy dishes that will please the whole family.
Single Chinese Consumers
A rising number of singletons, especially men, are choosing ready-made meals over cooking or dining out. They lack the skills to cook as well as the homely taste of homemade dishes. Eating out at restaurants or getting takeaway food is not only unaffordable but also very inconvenient.
Why do Chinese consumers choose ready meals?
- Ready-made foods usually only take a few minutes to prepare.
- No need for grocery shopping, food prepping, or dishwashing.
- They are affordable. They are much cheaper than restaurants or takeaway foods.
- The choices are abundant. Local and foreign specialties are available.
- They are usually healthier than most fast-food chain foods.
- They are time efficient, no need to wait for the delivery to arrive.
- They have the touch of home-cooked dishes.
What are the most demanded ready foods?
Chinese consumers’ first preference is no doubt China-based specialties. Consumers are looking to find Chinese flavors and ingredients that fit into their busy lifestyles, without compromising on taste or quality.
From ready-to-cook hot pots to simple pre-washed seasoned veggies, consumers are looking to find China flavors and ingredients, all within the comfort of their homes and without making a big effort to cook.
Chinese specialties are of course not the only type of dishes that are popular among Chinese consumers. The demand for these dishes is on the rise in China, as these cuisines are becoming more accessible to consumers through ready-made options.
A variety of foods from all over the globe can now be found in small packages at most convenience stores. Lower-income consumers do not have to go to costly Italian restaurants to try Italian dishes any more.
Some of the most popular foreign foods include; pasta with cream or tomato sauce, seafood rice with vegetables, frozen pizza, mini hot pots, steak with potatoes, quiches, curries, quesadillas, Japanese noodles with broth, and vegetables on the side, lasagne, various types of vegetable soups, pancakes and many more.
Ways to succeed in the ready-meals market in China
The key to the pre-made food industry lies in all sorts of products and various flavors. Food makers need to increase investment in research and development to roll out more ready-to-cook dishes and make them as authentic as possible.
The pre-made food industry is booming, and the key to success lies in offering a wide variety of products and flavors. Brands need to focus on their investment in research and development to create more ready-to-cook meals that are as close to homemade as possible. Authenticity as well as diversity drives more consumers to the market.
How to promote and sell foreign ready meals on the Chinese market?
To promote foreign brands of ready meals in China, companies should focus on promoting the convenience, health benefits, and affordability of their products. Consumers want their meals to be convenient and nutritious, but still full of flavor. By highlighting the ease of preparation, freshness, and health benefits associated with their products, food makers can create greater demand for their offerings.
In general, Chinese people trust foreign food products more than their own, due to many food scandals in the country. They are willing to pay more for foreign brands, but in order to attract their attention, you need good branding and e-reputation, so they will know they can trust your brand.
Make good use of Baidu’s ecosystem to gain visibility
Baidu, the biggest search engine in China (with more than 70% of the market share), is a whole ecosystem of platforms and websites, that can help you with branding and e-reputation.
The first step will be to create a Chinese website. You need to know that websites in China don’t have an e-commerce function, their main purpose is building a presence online. It’s the first thing that Chinese people will see when searching for your name in Baidu so it’s important to convey all the important information about your brand and products, as well as other contact points, like WeChat accounts, social media accounts, e-commerce platforms, and so on.
Your website needs to be hosted in China so that Baidu will rank it high in search results. Apart from the website, Baidu offers many forums and community platforms, like Baidu Tieba, and Baidu Zhidao, where people look for opinions and recommendations. By participating in those forums, you can learn about the needs of your audience and build e-reputation, collecting good reviews of your products.
Be present on Chinese social media platforms
Although the website helps you with visibility and gaining trust among your target audience, the real promotion happens on social media platforms, as this is the place where Chinese people spend the most time online.
The definite must-have is WeChat, which is one of the biggest super-apps in China, gathering more than 1.26 billion people. There you can start an official account of your brand, post short videos promoting your food, or show some easy recipes and educational materials.
To reach a bigger audience, it’s advisable to use platforms like Weibo, Xiaohongshu, or Douyin. You can post content in different formats, organize discount events and games, like lucky draws, show recipes, and educate or collaborate with Chinese influencers that specialize in the food industry and cooking so that you become more visible and gain people’s trust thanks to such content.
Sell your ready meals on Chinese e-commerce platforms
The steps we covered are extremely important in terms of promotion and branding, but they also matter when it comes to selling products online. The biggest e-commerce websites like Tmall and Taobao from Alibaba Group or JD.com and Pinduoduo will be interested only in brands that are already present and recognized in China.
Selling on those platforms is expensive, but it gives you the greatest sales and visibility because most Chinese shoppers use them to buy daily necessities. Those platforms also are very convenient, especially for foreign brands, as they help with promotion, cold chain logistics, multimedia information, and delivery.
We recommend especially Pinduoduo, as it became one of the most popular business in recent years, valued especially when it comes to quality food. Another place is also Taobao, the biggest e-commerce place, as the site belongs to Alibaba Group.
Find local distributors to reach customers offline
As you could read earlier, most of the ready meals are sold offline, and the biggest distribution channels are supermarkets and grocery stores. Therefore, it’s crucial to find local distributors, that will help you get your food to those places.
Finding the right distributors is not easy, and they also, just like e-commerce sites, don’t want to work with brands without an established presence in China. In terms of distributors, it’s better to rely on a local agency, that will help you find the most suitable distributors for your brand.
We can help you find distributors in China!
We are a GMA marketing agency. We’re based in Shanghai and specialize in helping food makers reach their target markets and build brand loyalty. Our experienced team of Chinese and foreign professionals can help you develop strategies to increase your sales and visibility, as well as provide useful insights on the competition and consumer trends.
We worked with many companies from the food industry, helping them with promotion and sales, and we also have a big base of trusted food distributors, that will help you reach customers online and offline in China.
Here are some of your services:
Let us help you unlock the potential of this fast-growing industry! Don’t hesitate to contact us or leave us a comment, so we can schedule a free discovery consultation with one of our specialists in the F&B industry.