China’s instant noodle market was pegged at RMB 60.5bn (US$9.6bn) in 2011, up 27% since 2006, Mintel data showed, and is set to hit 3.9m tonnes by 2016.
But the research group’s recent report has revealed that it is a slow growing market sector due to“lowered consumer enthusiasm”and a lack of new product development (NPD).
The report championed product innovation as essential in re-stirring market interest.
Matthew Crabbe, research director for Asia Pacific at Mintel, said “the market has reached a stage where is it commoditised…and invigorating new consumer groups needs to be a focus” for manufacturers.
Crabbe told FoodNavigator-Asia that there are huge market opportunities at the healthier end of the market.
Development in value-added, premium instant noodle products is in its infancy, he said, ensuring plenty of scope to “rejuvenate popular interest”.
Demand for ‘something better’
Research showed that more than half (58%) of Chinese consumers tend to avoid MSG (Monosodium glutamate), an ingredient widely used in the instant noodle sector, according to Crabbe.
“It’s a cheap and easy ingredient to use and it means that manufacturers can use cheaper flavours,” he said, but one that is an increasing concern to consumers.
“Another attitude we identified was that 37% of consumers consider noodles junk food,” and 57% would more likely buy low-calorie noodles.
The survey detailed that health concerns are an increasing priority among Chinese consumers, with around three-quarters claiming to actively choose healthy noodles, for example those low in salts, fats and non-fried.
It also found that a large chunk of Chinese consumers try to avoid noodles with artificial ingredients (72%) and would prefer noodles containing natural ingredients.
Manufacturers need to be focused on developing non-MSG noodles, with healthy, good quality ingredients while lowering fat, salt and sugar levels to create healthier products, Crabbe said.
“This is a very good opportunity for manufacturers to stand out from everyone else,” he added.
Adapting local flavour applications should also be a key strategy, he noted.
The Mintel report suggested that beef is the most popular flavour, with 64% of consumers surveyed stating it as a favourite, followed by spare rib (51%), pickled vegetable (45%), spicy (43%) and seafood (41%).
“New flavours, particularly those from different regions, are a natural driver of consumer trial and therefore engagement,” Crabbe said.
There has been a “spark of creativity creeping back into the market,” but more needs to be done by way of NPD or adapting current products and extending ranges, he said.