Chinese consumers are embracing healthier alternatives of carbonated soft drinks, but beverage manufacturers are being very slow to respond to this changing trend, a new report by UK market research firm Mintel shows.
A survey found 72% of Chinese consumers are trying to avoid drinks with artificial ingredients and 75% wanting to buy drinks with natural ingredients, creating an opportunity for beverage makers.
Tan Heng Hong, senior research analyst at Mintel, told FoodNavigator-Asia that Chinese consumers are becoming more health conscious, with drink ingredient fussiness a novelty on a novelty.
The survey revealed that 50% of consumers consider carbonated soft drinks as just a treat, with 67% of carbonated soft drinks consumers wanted to purchase diet or low-calorie drinks and 75% wanted drinks with natural ingredients.
Heng Hong pointed to the survey released by the General Administration of Sports of China that revealed one third of the adult population (32.1%) aged 20 to 59 in 2010 were overweight and one out of ten (9.9%) were obese.
“With the rising rates of obesity and overweight, consumers are becoming more conscious of what they eat. Our survey has found Chinese consumers are trying to become healthier by exercising regularly, eating healthier and watching what they eat,” Heng Hong added.
Beverage makers are too slow to respond
According to Mintel, only 1.8% of new launches of carbonated soft drinks in China carry a 'no additives or preservatives' claim – this was slightly up from the 1.5% launched in 2006.
It was also in stark contrast to the UK and US markets where manufacturers have embraced consumer demand and followed swiftly with no preservatives drinks.
In the US, according to the report, some 16% of new carbonated drink launches carry a 'no additives or preservatives' claim - up from 12.5% in 2006. In the UK, a massive 37% of new launches carried this claim, up from 14% in 2006.
“Therefore, there is a big gap in the market that is not exploited. Very few products appear to have these features and from consumer survey, consumers want fewer artificial ingredients so there is an opportunity that seems to have not been exploited,” said Heng Hong.
According to Heng Hong, companies have tapped the health trend with diet-carbonated soft drinks, but increasingly, the trend has shifted towards natural products globally.
Heng Hong remarked that despite the tough economic environment, Chinese consumers have proved to be adventurous in taste and packaging and this provides two key areas of future growth.
Small packs is the way to go
“The current lack of launches with natural or low-calorie claims provides the case for natural carbonated soft drinks to fill in the gap in the market,” he said.
“Increasing the appeal of carbonated soft drinks in different occasions through smaller pack sizes, food matching and beverage mixing has the potential to drive volume growth going forward," he continued.
Heng Hong highlighted that as much as 96% of Chinese consumers drink carbonated soft drinks, 99% consume fruit juices and juice drinks, 99% drink dairy drinks and 98% drink ready-to-drink tea.
The report suggested future opportunities lie with the potential for increasing sales of single-serve packaging and that ‘on-the-go’ consumption is very important due to the rapid growth of urban convenience stores.
Smaller packages can also increase appeal amongst the growing office snacking culture, the report said.