A growing interest in beef and sheepmeat in China

The monitoring of Chinese consumer buying habits in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic is showing positive attitudes toward New Zealand- produced beef and sheep meat.
Wednesday, 1 April 2020

B+LNZ’s Market Development team is monitoring Chinese consumers’ perceptions of the protein market, the perception of protein origin, and the changes in retail channel choice during the COVID-19 pandemic.

B+LNZ has published a report summarising the latest findings which can be found here:

Download full report (PDF, 2MB): China COVID-19 impact on red meat Report 3 up to March 15 2020 (6 weeks since outbreak).

“With the Chinese market cautiously reopening, people are increasingly excited about eating their favourite proteins again.” says B+LNZ’s Global Market Intelligence & Research Manager Hugh Good. 

“Taking into account the positive health perceptions of beef, the desire for mutton hot pots and NZ remaining a strong country of origin, we’re really well placed to get back into the Chinese market,” says Hugh.

Research began in January by tracking conversation on Chinese social media platforms and is ongoing. 

Key findings

Beef is the star performer

Overall, the volume of conversations about protein has remained at similar levels to the pre-COVID-19 outbreak. However, Chinese consumers are increasingly talking about beef at the expense of pork. There has been an increase in conversations around beef from 37% of all protein conversations to just under a half – with most of these conversations positive.

“Beef is increasingly being talked about because of its perceived family health benefits and consumers discovered during the lockdown that they could easily buy beef online and cook it successfully at home, often for the first time.”

The rise of health-related purchasing choices 

Concerns about continuing protection for families against COVID-19 is driving consumer purchasing choices. Conversations show that health remains a strong driver of purchasing decisions, but they are now much more focused on immunity. 

“We’re finding that claims like organic have spiked as shoppers are seeking pure, natural products believing that it’s best for children and elderly,” says Hugh. 

New Zealand country origin not affected

Perceptions of NZ and its beef and lamb continue to strengthen while the effects of COVID-19 on NZ remain largely unreported in China.

Online retailers are also having an impact on perception as NZ products are highly rated on major online sites such as JD.Com. 

“While certainly the market is increasingly competitive, NZ remains a strong origin brand with positive sentiment towards its perceived isolation and confidence in our food production systems.”

The switch to online shopping

The COVID-19 outbreak has driven a switch to online shopping while traditional retail stores, wet markets and restaurants closing. 

“Chinese consumers are historically less familiar with preparing beef and sheep meat at home but have had a lot more time to experiment with cooking and recipes,” says Hugh. 

“They’re now increasingly interested in convenience as a driver of purchases with an eight percent increase in conversations about protein convenience over the last few months. This is because consumers are now responsible for home preparation and are unable to use food service.”

The switch to online shopping is also driving demand for different packaging formats with more hygienic, easily stored and multi-use formats. 

The desire for lamb and mutton hot pot

The seasonal return and celebration of mutton hot pot was delayed in 2020 due to restaurant closures. However, with outlets starting to re-open, they are one of the few venues which have been crowded with wait times of up to eight hours as people queue to get in. 

“Chinese consumers are excited to eat lamb and mutton hot pot again as people can once again indulge in their favourite hot pot restaurant experience,” says Hugh.

For more information and statistics, read the full report.