Imported Food Products: What you need to know about the Chinese Consumer

Food sales in China are a dynamic industry. The rise of the middle class, the increase of products available on the market, and a lack of confidence in local products have led to dramatic changes in the grocery shopping landscape.

Sales of imported food products in China are at a record high with a growth rate of 15% per year against a worldwide average of around 4%.

The Strategic Guide to Export Food in China

Competition is also high, and for imported goods, it is getting harder.  Improvements in the quality of Chinese products and higher taxes for imported goods pose potential barriers to success for many producers of overseas products.

But harder does not mean impossible.  There is still a strong demand for imported products and, if you understand what the Chinese consumer is looking for, you can increase your chances of securing your place in the market.

For those interested in entering the imported food product industry, Gentlemen Marketing Agency has prepared this overview of the shopping habits of Chinese consumers.  It is based on market research conducted with 196 Chinese shoppers from a variety of demographic backgrounds.

 1. General food purchasing behavior

1.1 How are consumers researching food products

As with most things in China, the internet is the main source of information when it comes to Chinese consumers researching food brands.  Nearly two-thirds of respondents said they checked Baidu (China’s Google) for information on food brands before purchasing a product.  Family and friends represented the second most popular source of information.

Results for newspapers and magazines are low as expected.  Print media advertising is not a primary marketing avenue for food in China as it is costly and difficult to measure.

The results for social media and mobile apps are interesting with only 9% and 8% respectively.  For the purpose of this analysis, it is hypothesized that respondents generalized their responses into the internet category.  However, it does warrant further investigation at a later date as social media usage in China is enormous.

In this section, age did not play an important factor in results with similar results across all age groups.  The one area where age did play a factor worth considering is in the 25 -34 age group where they are more likely to be strongly influenced by word-of-mouth referrals from friends or family or through social media.


1.2 How are consumers shopping online

Online food sales continue to grow in popularity as consumers seek convenience and choice.

From the surveyed panel, 94 % had purchased food online, with Tmall as the preferred platform.  JD and Yihaodian also performed well.

Buying directly from the brand’s website ranked further down in the fifth position.  This can be attributed to the strategic move by many brands to distribute through a larger Chinese e-commerce platform for logistical ease.   For the consumer, it is more efficient to visit an aggregator site to find all options so this strategy is effective at both ends of the cycle.

2. Imported food-buying behavior

2.1 Are consumers buying imported products


A high proportion (84%) of the respondents had purchased imported food.

There was little difference in the results per city, with Beijing just surpassing Shanghai.

Shoppers aged over 45 are the most timorous when it comes to buying imported products but the results are still strong at 72%.   The highest uptake was in the 35 to 44-year age group where 91% of those surveyed had purchased imported products.

74% of those surveyed purchased imported food as a gift. This is most likely a reflection of the perception that imported food is of a higher quality and is, therefore, more valuable.  As a result packaging and branding is very important.

2.2 How the Chinese buy imported products

The purchasing behavior of imported products is in line with domestic shopping practices.

60% of respondents who buy imported food do so online, with 70% stating it is the most convenient.  Additional comments noted that shoppers could also find better prices through online platforms than in traditional stores.

Friends and family recommendations, as well as online information, were the driving factor for 67% of the panel to buy imported food online.

2.3 What imported products are the Chinese buying

China imports a wide range of food products including dairy, meats, bottled water, and confectionary as well as beverages- including alcohol, coffee, and tea.

For the respondents of this survey, dairy products and snack foods were the most commonly purchased.  More than half of the respondents who buy imported food have bought at least one product for either category.

2.4 What are Chinese consumers looking for when buying imported products

Safety is the most important issue for 80% of the panel.  For a country often rocked by food scandals, this is not a surprising result.

Quality ranked second, seen as an important buying trigger for 66% of the panel.  Two out of three respondents who buy imported food are impacted by the brand.

2.5 What are the popular source markets for imported products

The United States and France are the most popular source markets for those surveyed.

These two countries are seen as having the best reputation for food.

Japan and Italy follow closely behind, with New Zealand and Australia also ranking well. Locally these countries appeal to consumers on two levels.

Firstly, they are thought to be more advanced in food production with better production methods and more hygienic factory environments.   Secondly, they are aspirational destinations with lifestyles the Chinese try to emulate.  For the affluent young Chinese, consuming these products can mean a sign of wealth and worldliness.


The survey clearly shows that there is a place in the market for imported food products and that consumers are open to buying them.

Partnering with popular e-commerce sites for online sales is an effective strategy for distribution, allowing more consumers to access your product.

Companies who promote verified safety and quality of packaging and through marketing activities will be more attractive to Chinese shoppers who rate these attributes as very important when considering their purchases.

 How to Market your Imported foods?

Branding is Strategic

The branding is bigger than any particular marketing effort. Branding is the most important part after the marketing has swept through the room. It’s what sticks in your customers ‘ minds associated with your product or service. Branding is vital to the success of a business.

The key to the success of your branding is to define what your business stands for. You have to:

The Importance of Branding

  • Creates consumer preference for the product or service behind the brand
  • Generates increased revenues and market share

E-reputation Marketing

Online Reputation, consisting of comments, recommendations, and reviews across a buzzing for brands and businesses. Customer reviews are perhaps the most potent medium for building and displaying a brand’s or business’s reputation. Our Online Reputation strategy consists to :

  • Monitoring: Know What Your Customers Are Saying. Keeping your eyes and ears on the customer reviews can be a challenge and monitoring online reviews can be a strenuous manual process.
  • Acquisition: Get More Reviews. Getting positive online reviews is very important for every business.
  • Amplification: Use Your Reviews In Your Sales and Marketing Funnels

China E-Commerce is ‘Just the Beginning

The E-Commerce Market in China is developing very fast these past few decades. The development of Chinese eCommerce is the result of large-scale, diversified investments made by China’s tech titans. Advancements in e-commerce are good for Chinese consumers, and they also help to address important areas such as infrastructure development, product safety concerns, and cross-border global trade.

As Tmall & JD are focusing on the domestic market for same-day delivery, improved supply networks & investment in new retail other cross-border players grow their role & status for cross-border goods & services. Tmall Global and JD Global as the largest platforms by GMV have more stringent barriers in place for international brands. Certain markets such as Cosmetics, Nutrition & Health + Wellness are categories in demand by these platforms, but many others are less well suited (remember they are both primarily domestic market focused).

Tmall B2D: Distribution

Tmall B2D is a new era of distribution. After massive branding marketing, the choice of a good distributor is the key to a successful presence in China. In this, Tmall B2D brings excellent solutions to foreign brands: thanks to its innovative concept, exchanges between brands and distributors will be much easier. Tmall B2D allows brands to select their partner from over 85,000 distributors across the country! For more information about this new service, click here.

Social Media: Your Best Friend

Everything is online, You want to promote your brand in China? you have to be present in The Chinese social media landscape. The main Leaders are WeChat (1 billion Active users) and Weibo(650 active users). Social media can help you to increase your customer engagement through your rich and authentic content, the update about your brand and services…

This alone is not enough.  Where brands will generate real traction is through investment in digital marketing and building e-reputation.  In China, reputation is everything and with social media so widespread, everyone can have a public opinion on everything.  Making sure customers are talking about your brand through these channels in a positive manner will build your brand profile and, in turn, should result in greater sales.

Using experienced marketing agencies such as Gentlemen Marketing Agency can make the process easy, designing strategies effective for the Chinese consumer.


  • hey Marketing to China, I’m doing research in food and beveraage area. I have read your article (very nice) and found it helpful to my report. I even quote it in my report. Can I ask for the Name of the Agency FOunder ? I want to put it in my reference list. Thanks.

    • Olivier

      Hi Thank you. The Founders are Philip Qian and Olivier VEROT

  • Francois

    Bonjour, sur combien de personnes cette enquete a-t-elle ete effectuee? Merci.

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