For more than 20 years, Dr. Ann Veeck, professor of marketing, has studied the rapidly changing food market systems of China, conducting field projects in numerous cities, including Nanjing, Beijing, Guangzhou, Yangzhou, Changchun and Shijiazhuang. Most recently, she continued her research in identifying ongoing and new trends in the Nanjing province of China, the location of her dissertation research in 1996. In February, Veeck presented her research at École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris.
While China has reduced starvation and hunger on a scale unparalleled in history, a number of new challenges have emerged. Veeck describes three trends to watch.
- Food-related health concerns have shifted away from malnutrition to chronic illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes. China now has more diabetics than any other nation, with an adult rate close to 12%.
- An overreliance on local foods has been replaced by a dependence on the global food system.
- The most pressing food concern has changed from a lack of food to tainted food.
Veeck says that studying China’s food industry—with the speed and breadth of its changes—can help define a healthy global food supply. Her most recent research includes a study of the development of food consumption patterns in Chinese teenagers and a project involving the collection of the food histories of elderly Chinese.
Ten Food Shopping Trends of Urban Chinese Consumers
1. Food shoppers today are spreading their food shopping trips around to more diverse types of stores, including convenience stores and online retailers.
2. People find food shopping more fun and less of a chore than they did in 1996, probably because of the wider range of options of food retailers and food choices.
3. Food shopping patterns have become more generationally driven, with older food shoppers more likely than younger food shoppers to shop in traditional food markets (e.g. farmers’ markets, food stalls). But people of all ages now shop in large supermarkets.
4. Food safety remains the overriding concern of food shoppers, with the overwhelming majority of people believing that their food supply is less safe today than it was 15 years ago (85%), 5 years ago (81%) and even 1 year ago (73%).
5. Food shoppers trust large supermarkets more than they trust farmers’ markets for safe food products.
6. To get reliable information about food safety, food shoppers trust family and friends much more than they do any other source, including government reports, consumer organizations and food and nutrition experts.
7. The most important food safety concerns of food shoppers are counterfeit food products and contamination from chemicals, pollution and bacteria.
8. Purchase of many types of packaged foods, including fresh milk, frozen foods (e.g. jiaozi, hundun, and baozi) and salty snacks, has increased substantially. The purchase of many types of fresh vegetables has remained the same or decreased.
9. People eat out more now, with the increase occurring almost exclusively at fast food restaurants, including Japanese, Korean, Chinese and Western fast food restaurants, as opposed to full-service restaurants.
10. Attitudes toward eating out have also changed positively, particularly towards entertaining guests in restaurants.