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Imports 'safer' thinks China: Report

By Ankush Chibber , 22-Aug-2012
Last updated the 22-Aug-2012 at 10:10 GMT

Chinese consumers are turning to imported food products as the local food manufacturing industry struggles with safety and quality issues, a report has found.

Research firm Ipsos revealed that over 61% of Chinese consumers had seen their confidence in domestic food products erode over the past year thanks to multiple food safety scandals. 76% said food scandals were the reason behind them looking for imported alternatives.

The survey, based on individual interviews with 2,100 respondents, found 28% of these consumers were now willing to buy imported food products to replace domestic products.

This was because the consumers were of the belief imported foods and brands had stricter safety controls during packaging and processing, did not contain unhealthy additives, and went through rigorous testing.

In terms of the imported food products, 77% said that they purchased dairy products, followed by 57% who bought grains and oil at 57%, and 56% who purchased food for infants and children.

West is best (better)?

This finding corroborates what other experts and analysts have been saying about China—that its food safety issues mean western food safety standards represent a definite advantage to foreign firms attempting to enter China.

For example, China’s dairy industry, which is growing at around 10% per annum, has in recent years been blighted by a series of contamination scandals, which have led to hundreds of thousands of cases of illness and dozens of deaths.

Ildiko Szalai, Euromonitor senior company analyst, said an unscathed food safety record is a “strong marketing advantage” for any dairy firms attempting to enter China, which is expected to be the world’s largest dairy market by 2020.

Firms such as New Zealand dairy exporter Fonterra and Swiss food and beverage giant Nestlé already have an established presence in China.

“Food safety is definitely an advantage for international dairy industry players. They may be able to offer consumers a safer product option, with less chance on contamination. It is a definite marketing advantage benefit for these multinational dairy industry players,” said Szalai.

Import issues

Chinese authorities however have recently started cracking down on imported foods too. Last week, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection, and Quarantine (AQSIQ), found 72 kilograms of infant formula imported from Heinz Australia had quality problems, prompting a recall.

The watchdog, while releasing a list of substandard imported foods last week, said that the product had more Vitamin B2 and less Vitamin B5 than labels on the products listed.

Earlier this month Hong Kong said it planned to test babies over concerns two brands of Japanese infant milk formula were iodine deficient. This came after Hong Kong’s Center for Food Safety (CFS) said standard tests had revealed that the Wakodo and Morinaga brands had low iodine levels.

Jennifer Tsai, managing director for innovation and forecasting at Ipsos (Greater China) told FoodNavigator-Asia however that the impact of these food safety issues would be temporary. 

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