China's infant nutrition consumption and innovation trends: JD and COFCO reveal eight consumption patterns

By Tingmin Koe contact

- Last updated on GMT

Organic infant food or those with added probiotics are popular purchase amongst Chinese parents, a study by JD and COFCO has shown.
Organic infant food or those with added probiotics are popular purchase amongst Chinese parents, a study by JD and COFCO has shown.

Related tags: Infant nutrition, Infant formula, Food for kids

A JD-COFCO joint research centre has published a white paper which sheds light on the eight consumption and innovation trends dominating China's infant nutrition market.

Titled “White paper on China food consumption and product innovation trend”, a part of the white paper covers development in the infant nutrition market. 

Statistics from JD big data, China National Food Industry Association, and COFCO’s Nutrition Health Research Institute were used.

Eight trends

1. Rise of organic food

Parents are buying more organic food for their infants, the white paper noted.

Be it infant formula powder or other types of baby food, the percentage of organic food in the market has grown by 122% when comparing the market in year 2013 – 2014 and year 2017 – 2018.

For instance, in year 2013 – 2014, organic infant food accounted for 1.7% of all infant food. The percentage rose to 3.78% in year 2017 – 2018, according to figures from JD.

2. Rise of probiotics

With a better understanding of probiotics, parents are now more willing to buy products containing probiotics for their children.

As compared to year 2015 – 2016, the number of infant food containing probiotics have expanded by 250% in year 2017 – 2018.  

The number of searches involving probiotics have also increased. In year 2017 – 2018, infant food with added probiotics consisted 2.85% of all terms searched, while the figure was 1.14% in year 2015 – 2016.   

Brand manufacturers are also educating consumers the science behind the product, instead of merely stating the nutritional facts.

Also, 59.3% of the Chinese consumers said they wished to buy products with added probiotics.

3. More R&D centres

Under intense market competition, brands are placing more focus on R&D and more R&D centres are established as a result.

For instance, Chinese dairy giant Mengniu, Yili, and Feihe have all launched infant nutrition research centre to advance their product innovation.

They include the partnership between Mengniu and University of California, Davis, while Yili has set up the Mother and Infant Nutrition Research Centre with multiple institutions.

“In the face of increasingly competitive Chinese market, the Chinese corporations have a higher understanding of sialic acid, oligosaccharide, and the components of human breast milk as compared to overseas firms,”​ the white paper noted.

4. Original flavour most popular

Despite the introduction of new flavours, the original and milk-flavoured infant food remain popular amongst parents.

For instance, in year 2017 - 2018, the original and milk flavoured products comprised 31.89% and 20.74% of the infant food market, figures from JD revealed.

5. The power of IP marketing

The white paper also outlined how Intellectual Property (IP) marketing has successfully captured the Chinese market.

These IP marketing can include the use of cartoon characters to attract children and parents to purchase the products.

For instance, there are manufacturers which use characters from movie “Despicable Me” to market their banana-flavoured milk, biscuits and cream puffs.

6. Finger food

The concept of finger food has also led to new product innovation. These products can also help toddlers to learn to eat independently.

As such, manufacturers are producing finger food that comes in elongated shapes that toddlers can easily grab hold of.

7. Do not overlook mothers' welfare​ 

Infant food manufacturers should also take note of the mothers’ lifestyles and welfare when producing food for infant and toddler.

Conducted by COFCO, a survey involving over 800 mothers living in the first tier cities showed that mothers have limited time to interact with their children when they are required to work.   

93% of the working mothers hoped to achieve a balance between family and career, while 92% said they hope to spend more time with their children.

8. Dad’s involvement​ 

More men are helping to take care of their children, including buying food for them via e-commerce platforms.

In year 2017 – 2018, 50.85% of the consumers who bought infant milk on JD were men. As for other types of food such as snacks, noodles, and porridge for toddlers, around one-third of the product buyers were men.                         

Reasons for growth

The infant formula powder market is expected to worth RMB$204bn (US$29.6bn) while dry infant food is expected to be worth nearly RMB$24bn (US$3.4bn) this year.

Three years ago in 2015, the infant food market was worth RMB$133.4bn (US$19.3bn), which was a 16.1% growth from the year before. Back then, infant formula powder comprised 92% of the infant food market. 

On the other hand, consumers are more willing to buy higher priced products.

For instance, in the case of infant formula powder and fruit puree, there is increasing number of consumers buying higher priced products than low priced products.

With the introduction of the two child policy, the white paper expects the number of newborns in China to increase. Together with higher purchasing power and premiunisation of products, the white paper forecasted that the spending on infant food will continue to grow.

Related topics: Research

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