Eager to grab a slice of China's ice cream market, valued at 23 billion yuan (€2.28bn) by the China Association of the Bakery and Confectionery Industry, foreign giants Swiss firm Nestlé and Anglo-Dutch Unilever have pushed investments in the area.
According to the Chinese newspaper China Daily, in 2003 Unilever, which has a 10 per cent share of China's market, reportedly invested 150 million yuan to promote its popular Walls ice cream brand.
This year, reports the newspaper, many new flavours are emerging as competition among manufacturers intensifies.
The top five brands in terms of market share - Yili, Walls, Mengniu, Nestlé and Meadow Gold - hold a 57 per cent stake of the Chinese market. Foreign giants Walls, Nestlé and Meadow Gold (owned by US food firm Suiza Foods) own 30 per cent, while the two domestic brands have the other 27 per cent of the market.
Data in the report comes from Sinomonitor International, an independent Sino-Japanese market monitoring company, which used figures from the China Marketing and Media Study's (CMMS) database. CMMS has for the last seven years followed over 70,000 Chinese consumers - aged between 15 and 64 - in 30 major cities.
According to the report, the CMMS data for 2003 shows that ice cream appeals to a wide group of consumers, with more than 73 per cent of Chinese eating the dairy product last year.
At present, the per capita consumption is 2 litres a year, and the figure is expected to grow to 6 litres in 20 years, according to Liu Fan, a CMMS researcher, reports China Daily. Domestic brand Yili topped the polls in the last 12 months, with 46.1 per cent of people surveyed saying they had eaten Yili ice cream, compared to 44.9 per cent had for Walls, 33 per cent for Mengniu, 27.2 per cent eating Nestlé and 20.7 per cent plumping for Meadow Gold.
"Although they are the most popular, the top five do not have the highest loyalty among Chinese consumers, the report says," writes the news report, which quotes Liu Fan as saying that "in a market with many competitors, market share is not enough to state a brand's competitiveness. Brand loyalty is also important."