Snapshot: China

Dirty ingredients prompt more Chinese to opt for clean labels

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Dirty ingredients prompt more Chinese to opt for clean labels

Related tags: Food, Food and drink, Asia-pacific

It is no coincidence that China is leading the way across the Asia-Pacific region by moving towards natural foods. With the country’s industry sullied by an ever-evolving tale of lax food safety standards - with the will to improve in this department only a recent development - it has been left to consumers to vote with their feet.

This decade’s economic boom has delivered sizeable growth to China’s retail sector which, in turn, is seeing a big trend towards pre-packaged goods, whereas in past, households would be more likely to purchase individual ingredients.

I think Chinese people are becoming more interested in [clean labeling]​,” says John Kjær, Arla Foods Ingredents’ global marketing head, after a recent visit to the country. “They are increasingly turning over the packaging and looking at what is on the back. They are starting to take an interest in what specific ingredients are, because more and more they have to recognise ingredients that they see in their kitchen​.”

Inspiring consumers

Citing Arla’s strategy to provide manufacturers with more natural ingredients, Kjær asserts that more effort is needed by this segment to supply natural products and to inspire consumers to choose clean-labelled products.

According to Chr. Hansen research last year, consumers in 12 world markets had expressed a preference for natural colours, seeing them as safer and worthy of paying a price premium. But the company was especially surprised by how strong support for natural colours was in countries such as India and China – Far East consumers in particular linked trusted natural food colours to safer food.

Chinese insights

Meanwhile, Ingredion has also been targeting China through its Clean Label Insights campaign, and earlier this year conducted a survey in the country that backs up Kjær’s point of view: that Chinese consumers’ interest in clean labels is a reality.

The research, carried out across the three major cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, was presented at Ingredion's first Clean Label seminar during the Food Ingredients China 2013 show in Shanghai.

It found that around 85% of those surveyed check the ingredient list before buying packaged food, while 86% of the surveyed consumers voiced their desire to see ingredient lists that are simpler and easier to understand.

Natural ingredients are more likely to be accepted than chemical or synthesized ingredients, according to the research, and that for this reason, clean label foods are considered a safer and healthier choice – with 70% of those surveyed more willing to buy food with a simpler ingredient list.

The study also found that consumers pay most attention to the ingredient list for baby food and dairy products. They are also willing to pay more for “cleaner products​” in these two categories.

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