China’s total cheese import volume reached 47,316 tonnes (€170 million) in 2013, representing a 22% increase on 2012 and a 106% increase on 2010, according to Alan O’Brien, of Bord Bia’s Shanghai Office.
Citing latest customs figures, O’Brien said in the first five months of 2014, imports increased by 57% over the same period last year. In 2013, import volumes were dominated by New Zealand (45%), Australia (25.5%), US (23%), France (3%) and Italy (2.5%), with import volumes sold predominantly as processed product into foodservice outlets.
O’Brien noted that in considering the opportunities within the Chinese market, it is important to highlight the fact that core growth within the market is restricted to select urban centres – Shanghai (35%), Beijing (23%),Guangzhou (22%) and Tianjin (8%) – that are increasingly westernised at foodservice level (restaurants, hotels, bakery) where China’s increasingly affluent and burgeoning middle class are developing growing tastes for products such as burgers and pizza.
“According to Orrani (2014), just 20% of the sales of cheeses currently go through retail level and, as highlighted by Euromonitor (2014), the market remains predominantly a market for processed cheeses (spreadable/unspreadable) as opposed to more developed markets in Europe, where cheese culture is ingrained and consumers favour hard cheeses over that of processed products.”
O’Brien noted that in terms of cheese consumption, China remains in its infancy (per annum capita consumption 25g compared to 26kg in France). He said over the next number of years, this category will continue to develop and will see consumer tastes slowly adapt, with preferences shifting to incorporate more unprocessed and hard cheeses associated with European consumers.