Chinese Consumers Turn to “Prefabricated” Food

Peking roast duck, a popular Chinese dish, can be purchased online in ready-to-consume packs. Photo: Shutterstock Images

Chinese consumers are turning to meal kits and ready-to-eat dishes during the Lunar New Year, expanding one segment of the food industry that has attracted new investors in the field in recent years.

Orders for such products on Dingdong Maicai, an online food-catering platform, more than quadrupled last week ahead of the holiday to usher in the Year of the Tiger on February 1. Dishes with names and meanings for health and prosperity surged by up to tenfold, official data showed.

Choie Lu, a resident in Foshan in southern Guangdong province, bought some ready-to-consume food packs as New Year presents for her clients. “It’s very convenient, with different choices in terms of categories and sizes,” she said.

Meal kits and ready-to-eat packs – commonly known as “prefabricated food” in mainland China that includes instant cold and hot food – have not only grown in popularity but also in variety over the years. From frozen dumpling to pre-wash vegetables, they have expanded to include traditional Cantonese poon choi, Peking duck and Sichuan-style fish fillets.

This segment of the food industry started showing its early promises in 2014, when food-delivery services took off as restaurants adopted the format to meet demand for home deliveries and takeaways. The trend accelerated from 2020 after the Covid-19 outbreak, driven by travel curbs and lockdowns.

Sales in the business segment was worth 346 billion yuan (US$55.4) last year, according to an estimate by consultancy iiMedia Research. They may grow by about 20 per cent annually to reach more than 500 billion yuan in 2023, it said.

“The customers are mainly young people, especially those who are celebrating the New Year at their workplaces,” said Zhang Yi, chief executive of Guangzhou-based iiMedia Research. Most of them are aged between 22 and 40, he said, while 72 per cent of people it surveyed said convenience as the main reason, he added.

More than 68,000 companies have joined the bandwagon in China, with 58 per cent of them mushrooming in the past five years, local media Jinrongjie reported on Friday, citing data from information provider Tianyancha.

Several Shenzhen-listed companies have benefited from the boom as investors chased the stocks before a week-long trading halt, a bright spot in a bear market. Shandong Delisi Food, a producer of meat products such as sausages, has risen by almost 26 per cent this year. Xi’an Catering has appreciated 8.2 per cent.

Sales of meal kits and ready-to-eat dishes have also surged on the back of promotional activity on social media and live streaming events, said Fu Yifu, a senior researcher at the Suning Institute of Finance. Yet, cold-chain logistics and food safety must be developed to underpin its growth, he added. (Source: scmp.com)