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China – Under The Hood: Is there really a market for gluten-free food products in China?

A commercial oatmeal producer in Ireland recently sought my opinion regarding China market potential for gluten-free food products.

Gluten-free food China

Before answering, in addition to our own secondary research, I reached out to four China and Hong food procurement experts whose inputs I attach weight to: The procurement directors of both the largest food retailer in the province of Zhejiang and a leading online food platform in China, as well as an established Irish food importer in Hong Kong, and the procurement manager of a leading food retailer in Hong Kong.

Gluten-free food China 2The verdict: As always, China is a very tough nut to crack.  To arrive at an in-depth understanding of the market potential would require a full investigation into the growing instance of coeliac in China brought about as Chinese consumers adopt a more Western lifestyle, with increased consumption of wheat and gluten-containing products. Even so as it stands there is no significant demand for gluten-free products in China.

Until there is large pool of coeliac patients, increasing consumer awareness about coeliac disease and the benefits of a gluten free diet in controlling the symptoms, and rising government funding in the China this position will likely remain unchanged over the next three years, at a minimum.

Present Position

  • Consumer awareness of gluten-free products in China is low, with most gluten-free products being consumed by either the expatriate population or by Chinese High Net Worth Individuals.
  • Its incidence and distribution being largely unknown, officially, rates of coeliac disease in China are also low. As already noted, this lack of evidence indicating the existence, or extent, of coeliac among the Chinese population makes it a challenge to draw objective conclusions regarding the market size of gluten-free food products.
  • On the whole China media have been dismissive of the benefits and need for gluten-free products in China. An example of such sentiment is highlighted in one such article that refers to gluten-free as “an American obsession providing psychological comfort…” openly questioning “are gluten-free foods really better for the body?

(Source: http://www.qdaily.com/articles/28547.html).

Future Scenario

  • Typically, in terms of tackling coeliac as a public health issue, the central government and local authorities would be expected to take the initial lead in directing strategies for coeliac prevention thus raising public awareness and opening the market to local and international manufacturers / brands.
  • There is little doubt a major rise in the prevalence of coeliac is less than a decade away, especially in urban environments where the risk of is becoming a common disease would be higher.
  • With future insight and food allergies becoming more common, a shift in the mindset of Chinese consumers will ultimately push food exporters to phase out gluten and nut products.
  • Direct consequences of the numerous safety scandals that have hitherto plagued China’s food industry have been stronger consumer awareness of harmful food ingredients and more stringent labelling requirements. In this context for the consumer becoming gluten free may be about more the inclusions in a specific food product, not the food product itself.
  • At the most basic level, and this point is worth bearing in mind regarding a potential ‘toe in the waterTaobao (https://world.taobao.com/) or daigou D2C (http://www.daigousales.com/) cross-border ecommerce play, the main factors driving consumer purchasing decisions will continue to be quality and price, rather than following a gluten free diet.

Current gluten-free food / channels in China

  • Tmall http://www.tmall.com[Tmall is the largest business-to-consumer (B2C) retail platform in Asia, and most visited B2C online platform in China]

The following link is in Chinese.

https://list.tmall.com/search_product.htm?spm=a220m.1000858.1000723.2.4a1504c0s85EBC&&from=rs_1_key-top-s&q=%CE%DE%F4%EF%D6%CA%CA%B3%C6%B7

The results from a search for “Gluten Free” in Chinese.  Scroll up and down to review the images and pricing, which is in RMB or CNY [FYI 1 RMB = Euro 0.13 -date 3rd November 2017]. The sales volumes are particularly small given that the fee for setting up a shop-front on Tmall, or selling via such a shop are very high. The market is embryonic.

  • Taobao [Taobao is the biggest consumer-to-consumer (C2C) e-commerce platform based in China]. The following link is in Chinese

https://s.taobao.com/search?q=%E6%97%A0%E9%BA%B8%E8%B4%A8&type=p&tmhkh5=&spm=a21wu.241046-global.a2227oh.d100&from=sea_1_searchbutton&catId=100

The results from a search for “gluten free” in Chinese. Scroll up and down to review the images and pricing, which is in RMB or CNY [FYI 1 RMB = Euro 0.13 -date 3rd November 2017] The sales volumes are somewhat higher given that its only November 3rd… Yet, most of these foreign brands are airmailed from the source directly to the customer once an order has been placed. This maybe a low-cost option for testing the market.  There are other daigou, mobile apps and social network shopping apps that may also be useful for toe dipping. However, gluten-free food producers are not going to generate significant revenue streams from such cross-border channels until knowledge of gluten-free food benefits is much more widespread

Hong Kong?

Beyond the expat community there is “little demand” for gluten-free food products, and that’s from two trusted sources who are my first ports of call for all Hong Kong-related food matters.

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Tiananmen Square – China’s Woodstock? An 89er recalls

The Road Less Traveled: Niall's Musings

6.4 + 89 = 27 years to the day that changed my life. 

Traditional Chinese code of silence Traditional Chinese code of silence

When you’ve lived through an iconic event of history your life is transformed.

Words:Bravery, disgust, disbelief, betrayal, horror.

Smells: Innocence, idealism, cordite.

Sounds: Crackle, loudspeakers, sirens, pop, Bang, shouting.

Colours: Green, white, blue, orange, red, bruised Purple.

Feelings: Numbness, silence, despair, anger, fear, dismay –Why?

Sights:The scorching heat, the pickets, the helicopter, the blank stares of bus loads of apprehensive People’s Liberation Army soldiers surrounded by Beijing’s irate mothers and fathers, the water tankers, the chuandan (pamphlets), the handwritten messages on the school noticeboard, real tears, fleeing, panic, emptiness, dry tears, bloated bodies. How many more?

Tastes: Dry, salty and bitter.

Time: Central Beijing 3.45pm Saturday June 3, 1989, the first time I heard the traumatising sounds of teargas canisters exploding all around me…

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“The end of another day on Killiney Bay” – County Dublin, Ireland

"A penny for your thoughts" - Killiney Beach, County Dublin, Ireland

“A penny for your thoughts” – Killiney Beach, County Dublin, Ireland

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January 1, 2014 · 4:31 pm

How to become an early bird?

How to become a morning person

Source: http://www.thejournal.ie/how-to-be-a-morning-person-900457-May2013/

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May 12, 2013 · 11:07 am

#SaveCK

Everyone has a talent…what is rare is the courage to develop it alone and against all odds follow the talent to places where takes you. CK is an incredible dancer.

MOVED to stooffi.com!

After conquering local Vietnamese dance competitions, CK went on to win competitions in Malaysia and Singapore.

He is an amazing dancer who specializes in popping and animation – check it out for yourself:

It’s really hard to imagine that this is the same guy:

Nobody knew that CK was born with just 1 kidney. He had a small stature but seemed healthy and active. It was too late when he found out that his only kidney was failing at 16. In the past 6 years he has been undergoing dialysis, 3 times a week at “The Traditional Medication Hospital” in Vietnam.

Financially, it hasn’t been easy for his family.

His father had to retire from his prior job as a taxi driver due to old age. His mother, who owns a small shop outside a temple, remains the sole breadwinner. The cost of dialysis has been increasing, leaving the family…

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The Road Less Traveled: Niall's Musings

It’s unlikely you will receive a public declaration of charges by a ‘consultancy‘, which is akin to asking how many drops of water are in a bucket. Charges (whether hourly, fixed fee, or on a commission basis) can vary that much.

Here in China many dubious consulting companies claim to offer the services you require, so the first box you need to tick is making sure the sourcing consultancy you eventually work with can reduce your overall costs, reduce your time to market, and improve the quality of your product, thus making the charges worth it. Actually, the sourcing consulting company should be able to save you and your company money overall, even with their charges.

In general, experienced and reliable sourcing consultants, who are not ‘fly by night,’ should make the overall supplier identification, negotiation, inspection and shipping (productimport) processes faster, cheaper…

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Hangzhou Reflections: Does Ireland have Eskimos?

06-May-07 at 3:16pm

Just yesterday I was asked by a local “does Ireland have Eskimos?" It took me a while to figure out he was referring to Iceland, or perhaps Greenland. On a separate occasion another person was blown away when I told her Ireland was an island.

Which reminds me of a trip to Gateway 2000’s HQ in North Sioux City, South Dakota, USA, about 8 years ago. The taxi driver bringing me back to the airport asked me where I was heading to. I told him I was heading back to Gateway’s Asia HQ in Malaysia. He stops the car outside a US Air Force base and says to me: "You know why there are no USAF jets in them hangers? It’s because they are on their way to nuke that motherf****r Saddam over there in Malaysia".

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Hangzhou Reflections: Is the water here safe? What are we eating?

20-April-07 at 6:52pm

What are we drinking? Before Christmas an Italian friend of mine, who takes his cooking very seriously, put some tomatoes into a pot of water to boil…. Came back 10 minutes later…. The water was like red paint, and the tomatoes were all white…..  The water?

Formaldehyde in the beer?

Why is my hair falling out? Any nuclear power stations around here?

What are we eating? So if a broccoli looks too green, that’s because it is….a tomato looks too red, that’s because it is…. all tainted with pesticide. All that shiny and succulent carefully arranged fruit in the fruit shop downstairs…. Coated with…?

And the fish? A local Hangzhou Ren (native) once told me that as long as it was alive before they cooked it than it was safe to eat

What about so called beef? I mean…when was the last time you saw a heifer in China? Water buffalo, or?  And, as for pork?

…. The thought of what we are eating and drinking here just doesn’t bear thinking about…. Ignorance is bliss, other we’d starve.

However, I really would love to know what is in the air, and how many nuclear power stations are powering Hangzhou?

Suddenly the foreign food aisle of Hangzhou’s Carrefour seems like heaven. Tinned tomatoes from Italy, olives from Spain, plenty of imported pasta, and wine.. Don't tell anyone

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Hangzhou Reflections: Is living in Baghdad like this?

05-March-07 at 5:09pm

[A grumpy party pooping Niall after a sleepless Lantern Festival]

“Whatever the hell was creating the turmoil in our tranquil pond over the last two nights wasn’t all just a huge waste of money? Seriously, every neighbourhood trying to outdo the other in a cacophony of noise, with increasingly sophisticated weaponry that would impress your average Baghdad citizen…  So bang, crackle and whoosh all in the space of seconds. Money well spent?

I know someone is going to advise me to get with the program, but seriously the amount of money that is being wasted around here blows my mind!”

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Hangzhou Reflections: Moaning season – Is it Hangzhou or is it the weather

05-March-07 at 4:56pm
Foreigners, aliens, ‘Lao Wai’ tend to start feeling down after several months living in a place where cultural and lingual difficulties create a sense of loneliness.  They start blaming everyone and everything about their plight except themselves. This can happen anywhere, so don’t blame Hangzhou just because you feel depressed. It’s the really crappy weather! And if you were in Shanghai you’d be bitching on about Shanghai, because it is moaning season.
Hangzhou’s population of 10 million plus (that is larger than 90% of most European cities) seem to having a good time here.  All my local friends show me where and how to have a good time here. Actually Beijing sucks…six seasons including sand storms, and pollution that grows worse by the day (would you raise a young family there?). Shanghai sucks..No trees, no parks, no mountains or natural scenery… just an endless daily grind for 20 million people.
This is the seventh country I’ve lived in Asia, including Taiwan and Korea, and at the end of the day Hangzhou doesn’t rate badly.
Lao Wais, including overseas born Chinese who don’t make an effort to assimilate are always going to moan on and on where ever they are. Call it culture shock (loneliness), but blame it on the crap weather that really really sucks.

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