Mersol & Luo Insights
A Focused Look at Asia’s Growing Demand for Food
Overview of Key Markets
As Chinese consumers’ disposable income continues to increase, more are seeking out healthier, higher-quality food options. Demand for healthier packaged foods is growing quickly, yet most domestic brands have yet to introduce options that match this trend. Similarly, demand for fresh and organic foods is increasing quickly; sales of organic foods have grown by over 60% since 2011. Overall, a greater share of food sales is happening online and involve imported brands, with the pandemic accelerating this trend.
Like many high-income markets, Taiwanese consumers are increasingly health conscious and less price sensitive. Demand is shifting in favor of reputable foreign brands, better quality, lower sugar, and an openness to what is new or novel. Young consumers, in particular, want foods and brands that fit their desired lifestyle.
Hong Kong & Macau
Modern, fast-paced, and high-income, consumers in Hong Kong and Macau demand quality and products and brands that support a healthy and active lifestyle. Although more mature markets, per capita spending remains high as does familiarity and interest in new products, particularly imported.
Like Hong Kong and Macau, consumers in Singapore are willing to spend money for quality food products. Discerning, Singaporeans will not simply settle for flashy branding; the product needs to deliver quality and nutritional value. To that end, organic and other health-focused products are enjoying quickly increasing demand. Similarly, it needs to fit with the fast-paced urban local lifestyle.
Malaysian consumers are relatively young and, as incomes rise, seeking food products and brands that match their socio-economic aspirations. This means higher quality, more novel products, and imported brands. Consumers themselves are a mix of those looking for value-for-money and those focused on quality over price. Food brands that can tap into either of these trends will do well in Malaysia.
Like Malaysia, the average age in Indonesia is quite young, with most far from their ‘peak spending years’. Although average levels of disposable income remain modest, spending on food product is increasing across the board. Those with the means are happy to spend for quality whereas others are focused on quality-for-money purchases. This presents an opening for imported brands that can match increasing and changing local demand.
Japan is the second largest food market in Asia. With its aging population most sales happen via traditional brick-and-mortar sales channels, though online sales are strong and growing. Japanese consumers prefer well-known and reliable brands that deliver the quality local consumers have come to expect. Younger consumers, however, are more inclined towards novel and imported foods and brands and are willing to spend a significant proportion of disposable income on products that support their positive and modern lifestyle.
Similar to Japan in many ways, big brands and fast-moving food products remain the order of that day. However, there is a move away from products high in sugar or lacking good nutritional value, particularly among younger consumers in large cities such as Seoul. Along with quality and health, the brands themselves need to match consumers’ desired self-image and lifestyle. In this way it is in line with the broader trend among Asia’s most urbanized areas, such as Hong Kong and Singapore.
Growing food demand in Asia*
Annual Per Capita Spending on Food in Asia
Demand for animal protein and dairy in Asia is increasing and a prodigious rate with China leading the way. In many Asian countries demand is outpacing domestic production leading to increased imports. China’s combined imports of beef, pork, lamb/mutton, and poultry reached 6 million tons in 2020. In markets with little domestic production to begin with—such as Singapore, Hong Kong, and Macau, importing meat products is par for the course and a natural opportunity for foreign brands. Whether offering raw, packaged or processed products, demand will only grow for years to come.
Health foods—and beverages—are seeing a surge in demand from consumers across Asia. Whether value, mass market, or premium products, people want higher quality food that will enable them to lead healthier and more fulfilling lives. Top health products include a full range, from dried fruit and nuts to snacks and ready-to-go packaged meals with lower salt, fat, and sugar content and higher overall nutritional value. For many this goes hand-in-hand with efforts to fight increases in obesity—41% of people in Asia-Pacific are categorized as overweight or obese, heart disease and other ailments that have come with economic growth, greater wealth, and urbanization.
Organic, environmentally-conscious, and ethically produced products—already popular in North American and European markets—have only recently gained a toehold in Asia. This is in part because limited incomes put cost and basic nutritional and caloric value above other concerns. With increasing wealth has come greater interest and awareness of how food is sourced, produced, and the impact this has on people and the environment.
For example, plant-based protein options have become more urgent for many in light of the changing environment and growing public health challenges around types of food consumed. Similarly, demand for organic foods is growing rapidly as consumer sentiment has turned against GMOs, grain-fed animal protein, use of pesticides and the like. Demand for such products in Asia-Pacific is expected to grow by over 20% CAGR through 2022 and continue strongly thereafter.
The Case of Nestlé
Nestlé S.A. is a global food and beverages company headquartered in Switzerland, now the largest food company in the world. The firm was among the first foreign brands to enter the Chinese food market and has grown into one of the most trusted foreign food brands in the country.
Nestlé’s success is due to multiple factors. First, it executed an effective goodwill strategy for its brand, earning positive consumer reception through localizing its supply chain, featuring locally sourced ingredients in product formulations, investing in China’s agrarian capability and providing livelihood opportunities to local communities.
Second, Nestlé prioritized flavor adaptations to suit regional consumer preferences in China. Ice cream products sold in Harbin (North East), for instance, are heavier and usually topped with chocolate and cream, while those sold in Shenzhen (South China) are lighter and refreshing.
Third, their brand building strategy was tailored to current marketing trends. In 2016, its partnership with Alibaba (the larges ecommerce platform in China) and the launch of its products on Alibaba-owned Tmall.com led to triple-digit growth rates.
Demand for food is outpacing wage growth in Asia, in large part because much of that growth is in disposable income.
Consumers across the region are upgrading their lifestyle, seeking greater variety, more novelty, and higher-quality food options. In wealthier markets greater focus is being given to health and quality whereas consumers in middle- and lower-income markets are moving beyond primarily price-based purchasing decisions and with many open to new brands and less familiar products.
This presents an attractive opportunity for brands large and small offering healthy options that fit into a modern—often urban and convenience-focused—positive lifestyles. Though only just starting to make headway in many Asian markets, brands and products oriented around being environmentally and socially responsible will be well-positioned to match consumer demands long-term.