New research predicts Chinese meat consumption will grow 1% a year for the next three years but warns buying and consumption patterns are changing.
The report by global consultants McKinsey and Co identifies five trends in the world’s largest market for meat that it says exporters need to understand.
In 2021 China consumed nearly 100 million tonnes of meat, 27% of the world’s total and twice that of the United States.
But on a per-capita basis, Chinese consumption was half that of the US.
China’s huge population and growing middle class are expected to increase demand for meat by 1% a year between 2022 and 2026.
The survey found consumers are looking for alternatives to pork, especially sustainable and healthy meat which they can conveniently access.
McKinsey suggests exporters offer Chinese consumers premium convenient meat products, especially beef, and utilise online sales platforms to avoid traditional distribution systems it says are fragmented.
“Global players should embrace the online sales channel. This channel, which already accounts for 5 to 10% of meat sales, is relatively advanced in China.”
The report says beyond communicating to consumers the health, safety and sustainability attributes of their product, suppliers need to ensure they deliver on those promises.
“Protein will not disappear from consumers’ diets. The question is, how will they consume it, and how will they make that decision?”
It says China is actually two markets, one where more than half the population regularly eat meat with the balance termed conscious consumers, who eat little or no meat.
Pork accounts for 60% of meat consumed and is eaten in three to five meals a week, but the report says health concerns and growing affluence will likely see greater consumption of beef.
The survey showed 28% of people expect to reduce their pork consumption.
“Chinese consumers, especially those affluent enough to pay more for meat, consider beef healthier than pork.
“They see the higher price of beef as a sign of a premium product’s higher quality, and they remember the safety issues that have historically been associated with pork.“
Meat purchasing decisions are increasingly being driven by health, safety, quality and taste due to historic health food scares and questions over the adequacy of China’s meat standards.
Consumers are also demanding greater convenience.
Most buy uncooked meat for home-prepared meals, but younger consumers increasingly view convenience as a purchasing factor.
“These consumers typically feel great work pressure and have little time to cook, so they express interest in prepared meat, pre-cooked or fried and ready-to-eat meals delivered to their homes.”
Chinese restaurants typically use frozen meat and with the restaurant and catering market picked to grow 8% year on year from 2018 to 2023, McKinsey expects increased demand for frozen meat.
Awareness of sustainability is growing among Chinese meat consumers but is not reflected in demand for alternative protein that mimics meat.
Just 6% reportedly purchased these products in the past month.
“Across the markets surveyed, the sustainability claims that resonate most strongly with consumers relate directly to meat and personal health, pasture raised or free range and antibiotic free.”