China's growing snacking segment needs some spicing up to raise the bar

By Lester Wan contact

- Last updated on GMT

In China, Snickers has come up with a spicy-flavoured bar. ©Mars/Snickers
In China, Snickers has come up with a spicy-flavoured bar. ©Mars/Snickers

Related tags: Snack bars, snacking, energy bars, China, Mars, Trends

China’s ever-growing middle class is changing the country’s food sector with an increasing penchant for snacking — but analysts say the snack bar category in particular needs some spicing up.

Recently, Geoff Meyer, global channel director of foodservice at Fonterra, said that the biggest food trend stemming from China’s rapidly-growing middle class is the change in eating behaviour​ and a penchant for snacks.

Likewise, Dr Li Yongjing, regional president of Asia Pacific, DuPont Nutrition & Health, also said ‘snackification’ is a major global trend growing in Asia​, including in Japan and China.

Despite this, the snack and cereal bar segment in China is still small (RMB 7.9bn out of the total snack retail market value of RMB 691.1bn), growing by 6.7% last year — higher than that of other snacking categories such as chocolates or biscuits.

Loris Li, associate director at Mintel Food and Drink, told us that the snack and cereal bar segment had strong growth potential in China.

“What makes the snack or cereal bar relevant to Chinese consumers lies in its format and nutritional value, making it a convenient, healthy snack for Chinese consumers on-the-go,”​ she said.

Snack bars are typically made with cereal and dried fruits, and therefore tend to be a healthier choice for Chinese consumers who have such aspirations to lead healthier lifestyles.

Li said, particularly, protein or energy bars targeted at sports or exercise lovers have strong growth potential in China. This is driven by Chinese consumers’ increasing passion for working out or doing sports — a growing healthy living trend.

As indicated in Mintel’s Attitudes towards Sports Nutrition China 2018 report, 67% of sports or exercise lovers in China have consumed protein or energy bars as sports nutrition.

“Snack bars feature high content levels of protein and this can meet the demands of sports or exercise lovers when it comes to fulfilling their sports nutrition requirements,”​ said Li.

Nevertheless, snack bar category growth could be further boosted with “innovative concepts​” that are more appealing to Chinese consumers.

Spicing up snack bars?

According to Li, Chinese consumers have different snacking preferences for different times or occasions. Based on Mintel’s Consumer Snacking Trends China 2018 report, Chinese consumers want warm or hot and soft or puffy snacks in the morning, and crispy and spicy snacks during their leisure time.

“Tapping into current 'trendy' spicy flavours would help create more interest in the category,” ​said Li.

“Spicy and crispy, and to a lesser extent chewy, snacks are most sought at leisure time. (Snack) Producers should consider using flavours that are popular: Not only Chinese-styles such as Sichuan, but other flavours and cuisines that are currently trendy, for example Korean kimchi,” ​said Li.

One example of flavour innovation in China is Snickers, which has come up with a spicy-flavoured bar.

This was based on consumer data from Alibaba’s Tmall e-commerce platform, which revealed that 40.5% of Chinese consumers love spicy flavours.

Other regional examples include Eat Any Time Bambaiaya Chaat flavoured snack bar in India — a combination of sweet, salty and tangy — and Kind Sweet & Spicy Korean Chili almond bar from Korea.

Li added that bite-sized snacks could also encourage more consumers to try these products.

“Leisure time is the most frequent occasion that consumers want snacks they can share, with 46% of consumers wanting such snacks,” ​she said.

“Sharing snacks and gifting is an important part of Chinese culture, so offering packs of bite-sized snacks would be appealing.”

She said a pack containing a variety of flavours should also be considered.

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