Of the 2,100 Chinese consumers surveyed by research firm Ipsos, 61% said their confidence in the safety of domestically-manufactured food has declined in the past year.
The Chinese food industry has been blighted by a constant flow of safety-related food scandals in recent years. The country’s dairy industry has not been immune to these incidents.
As a result of these well-publicised incidents, 28% of those surveyed said they would be inclined to buy imported food brands to replace domestic products. Of these, 77% said they would buy imported dairy products over concerns about domestic options.
The survey found that dairy products are the most purchased imported food in China, followed by grains, cooking oil and children’s food.
The findings further suggestions that Western food manufacturers have taken full advantage of China’s poor food safety record – offering ‘safer’ alternatives to Chinese brands.
Food safety awareness
The survey showed that consumers in China have a high level of awareness of food safety incidents
Of those surveyed, 92% were aware of the 2008 melamine powdered infant formula contamination, which killed six children and sickened around 300,000.
Consumer awareness of the melamine scandal was second only to the illegal use of clenbuterol, which is also known as ‘lean meat powder’.
“Following the exposure of food safety incidents most consumers are very worried, and the decision-making factors in their purchase of food have changed,” said the survey report.
“When bottom line becomes the upper limit, the adverse events make consumers panic and become a significant factor in the choice of brands. 76% of the respondents say they will change the original considerations in purchase after learning about these incidents.”
“In the meantime, consumers tend to choose big, international, imported brands,” said the survey report.
‘Quality is trustworthy’
Asked why they would choose imported food brands over domestically-manufactured products, consumers cited the implementation of stricter controls relating to raw materials, production, processing and testing.
“The quality is trustworthy,” said the survey report.
It has been suggested by a number of sources that China’s poor dairy safety record has left the door wide open for Western dairy firms to market ‘safer’ alternatives.
Earlier this year, Danish dairy co-operative Arla Foods entered into an agreement with Chinese dairy giant Mengniu in an effort to expand its export potential in the country.
Through the deal, Arla was able to open additional sales channels for its products in China, where until then its product offering had been limited to milk powder.
“Food safety is definitely an advantage for international dairy industry players such as Arla,” Euromonitor senior category analyst Ildiko Szalai told DairyReporter.com following the deal between Arla and Mengniu.
“They may be able to offer consumers a safer product option, with less chance of contamination. It is a definite marketing advantage benefit for these multinational dairy industry players,” she added.