This, in turn, is creating new opportunities for snack manufacturers, according to Mintel, which has found that two in five urban Chinese eat more nuts and seeds than they did just six months ago.
The market analyst has also learnt that new product activity has supported these recent consumer trends, with a full 17.5% of all snack launches over the last two years in China featuring in the nuts category—two percentage points higher than the global figure.
The healthy snacking trend has been contributing to the growing popularity of nuts and seeds in retail channels too. It is now the biggest category in the retail snack market, with a value of RMB263.7bn (US$38.3bn).
The segment’s value has been growing at an annual rate of 10.7% since 2015, and is estimated to reach RMB345.6bn by 2020.
“Chinese consumers have become more aware of the health benefits of nuts and seeds. Now, it seems that eating these is no longer something to do to kill time while chatting with friends, but part of the overall pursuit of a healthy and trendy lifestyle,” said Ching Yang, senior food and drink analyst at Mintel.
“Therefore, companies should consider packing up the traditional nuts and seeds bulk products in favour of branded products that are positioned as a healthy snack. We’re seeing a number of the nuts brands thriving when leveraging this consumer trend.”
Mintel research shows that 61% of consumers associate a healthy snack with “all-natural” claims, while 42% associate it with “fortified with additional nutrients”. One third of Chinese consumers believe it should be “high in protein”, with the biggest group of advocates formed by male consumers aged 25-29. Moreover, two-fifths of consumers aged 40-49 said they associate healthy snacks with “low in salt” claims.
In other snack segments, meat and seafood snacks saw a flurry of launch activity from 2014-16 as they accounted for a quarter of new launches in China.
Traditional sweet snacks, including confectionery, ice cream and biscuits, have seen slow growth in comparison. Mintel estimates that 26% of urban Chinese are eating less chocolate confectionery today than they did six months ago—ahead of the 23% who say they are eating more of these.
Meanwhile, research suggests that 63% of consumers are eating more fresh fruits and vegetables as snacks, and 42% are eating more dairy-based snacks.
“Chinese consumers have a rising awareness of their sugar and fat intake. Therefore, more are switching to fresh fruits and vegetables or dairy-based foods for snacking,” said Yang.
This suggests a growing opportunity for food and drinks brands that enjoy a “healthy snacking perception”, including dietary supplements, cereals and yoghurt, to develop snack-format products, she added.
“Our research shows that Chinese females are concerned with calories, while males care about protein. With this in mind—and the fact that the average sodium level in China’s meat snacks is lower than the global average and the level is decreasing over time—the ‘reduced sodium’ claim is still rarely seen on meat snacks and, therefore, could be leveraged to meet consumer needs.”
At the same time, imported snacks have also been gaining popularity, with as many as 42% of urban consumers interested in buying products that are new to them.
“As consumers continue to look for new and different flavour experiences, international snacks have become a sector that many consumers are gravitating towards. E-commerce is an especially important channel for international snacks. It not only allows consumers to easily access foreign products, but also provides a less costly channel for international players to enter the Chinese market,” said Yang.
However, one of the challenges for consumers is deciding what products are good and worth the higher cost, especially for consumers living in tier-one cities as they are more likely to shop online, she added.
“A product targeting mainstream consumers could use regular retail channels in order to reach more consumers, especially in the lower tier cities.”
More from China…
Just a handful of samples failed HK safety tests out of thousands
All but four out of 9,200 food samples tested for adulteration by Hong Kong government’s Centre for Food Safety in the last year have been found to be satisfactory.
Of the samples assessed, 900 were collected for microbiological tests, some 1,600 were taken for chemical tests and the remaining 6,700—including about 6,400 taken from food imported from Japan—were collected to test radiation levels.
The tests covered pathogens and hygienic indicators, while the chemical tests aimed at detecting pesticides, preservatives, metallic contaminants, colouring matters and veterinary drug residues across all food segments.
Of the four unsatisfactory samples, two were of vegetable that had pesticide residues exceeding the legal limits; one mud crab was found to contain a veterinary drug, chloramphenicol; and a roast beef sample was suspected to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.
The CFS has taken follow-up action to remove substandard items from the market and traced their sources, the centre said in a statement.
Since new residue regulations came into effect in August 2014, the CFS has taken 97,600 samples of imported, wholesale and retail items for pesticide testing, with an overall failure rate of less than 0.2%.