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Exploring Chinese Light Food Industry: 5 Key Trends to Watch

In contemporary society, the concepts of health and nutrition have become paramount in the domain of dietary practices. The notion of ‘light food’ no longer solely encompasses salads and boiled chicken breasts, which used to be exclusively for fitness enthusiasts. Rather, it has gradually evolved into healthy food with low calories, low fat, original flavour, and rich nutrients. As such, the healthy light food industry is experiencing robust growth, with its market size continuously expanding. In 2022, the Chinese market for low-fat, low-salt, and low-sugar food will reach 31.2 billion CNY (roughly 3.63 billion GBP), and it is expected to sustain this growth in the future. Predictably, the adoption of a "health-oriented" approach is projected to become the most influential trend in the domestic food industry in the upcoming five years. This is evidenced by the fact that 55% of consumers prioritise health and nutrition when purchasing food, and 45% are willing to pay a premium price for it.

In this article, we will introduce 5 trends happening in the Chinese light food industry, from ingredients, cooking methods, packaging, tastes, and functional benefits.

1. Heightened awareness of food ingredients

With the growing number of consumers seeking a healthy lifestyle, there is a heightened awareness of food ingredients. Consumers increasingly favour products that are organic, additive-free, and have a short shelf-life, leading to a rapid increase in demand for these products. The market for organic products is predicted to reach 49.2 billion CNY (roughly 5.73 GBP) in 2026, with a projected 10% CAGR. For instance, organic food orders on the Douyin app alone have increased five-fold compared to the previous year.

Organic food, grown through natural methods, retains the original taste of the food, while short-shelf-life products reduce the use of additives, making them safer and fresher. The development of preservation technology and cold chain logistics also helps maintain the freshness of these packaged foods. Furthermore, plant protein has gained popularity in recent years as a supplement to animal protein, offering an alternative for those with lactose intolerance and promoting a more environmentally friendly world. Statistics show that searches for plant-based meat reached 320 million on Douyin in March 2023, while plant-based milk was searched 390 million times.

2. Popularity of Chinese-style light meal

The traditional approach to fitness and diet is evolving beyond the limited choices of 'salad-only' or 'boiled-everything' options. Chinese-style cooking methods provide diverse and popular options for light meals. Low-salt instant noodles, buckwheat, grains porridge, and steamed dumplings with konjac are just a few examples that break the monotony of traditional "salad only" or "boiled everything" diets. The popularity of these products is evidenced by a 40-fold increase in orders in Douyin in 2022 compared to 2021. Chinese-style light meals offer a balanced mix of ingredients that can help achieve nutritional goals and, when combined with a scientific exercise plan, make it easier to control carbohydrate intake. With diverse preparation and serving options, these dishes offer a convenient and healthy way for "Chinese stomachs" to enjoy vitality and health.

3. Rise of portable and convenient packaging

The trend towards smaller, individually packaged light meals is gaining popularity among consumers. Such portable formats offer the added convenience of being easy to carry and visually appealing due to their mini and cute appearance. These packaging options are widely available in various forms, such as protein bars, nuts, cookies, and more, and can be conveniently consumed to supplement energy levels before and after exercise or while on the go. Furthermore, portion-controlled packaging aids in regulating consumers' diets and ensuring the freshness of the food. Additionally, the youthful design of the packaging attracts attention and enhances the desire to share among friends.

4. Balance of health and taste

Eating healthily no longer requires sacrificing taste. Snacks can be both healthy and delicious, and there is a growing demand for "light snacks" that are low in calories and sugar. Unlike traditional puffed foods or sweets, these snacks offer a healthy alternative that can alleviate physical and mental fatigue, making them an ideal choice for those leading a fast-paced lifestyle. The options include chicken breast meatballs, konjac jelly and chicken breast or codfish chips. Meanwhile, a range of new and palatable meal replacement alternatives have surfaced in recent times, effectively debunking the stereotype that such options are unappetising and tedious. An instance of this is the Boohee brand, which introduced its 21-day plan, encompassing a diverse selection of delectable options, such as bibimbap, ramen, porridge, and other low-calorie snacks, that consumers can relish while adhering to their weight loss objectives. These convenient and nutritious light meals provide a practical means of maintaining a balanced diet without having to sacrifice a lot of taste.

5. Focus on the additional functional benefits

The light food industry in China has expanded beyond its initial focus on muscle gain and fat loss, now encompassing additional health benefits such as intestinal health, bone health, and skincare. Health products have become more precise and snack-like, making health management more convenient and effortless. Innovative products like zero-sugar nutritional gummies and solid probiotic beverages have created new market demand. Consumers can now enjoy functional light food on various occasions, such as supplementing with probiotics after indulging in hot pot and barbecue to promote digestion and comfort the gut, consuming dietary fibre drinks and kale powder to maintain a healthy diet despite busy work schedules, or having a bowl of oatmeal with hot water, soy milk, or cow's milk to satiate hunger late at night.

In conclusion, light food, or healthy food, is definitely a trend in China for the next few years, if you are interested in more industry insights, consumer preference, and potential localised adaptations, feel free to talk to us today!

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