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The growing opportunity for food gifting in China

Wednesday 12 October 2016

New research by Plant & Food Research has revealed that the convergence of key trends in diet, food safety and health and wellness, plus a thirst for foreign brands, has helped imported foods secure top ranking as the most common gift of choice for wealthy urban Chinese consumers.

This presents a significant commercial opportunity for New Zealand food producers if they can create and market products that fit this highly lucrative niche. Plant & Food Research’s Consumer and Products insight team were already working on Asian consumer food attitudes, so this provided a close research fit.

We then brought in global market trend experts Mintel to design and conduct the study. They gained insights from more than 2000 Chinese consumers via an online survey and focus groups, concentrating on urban, wealthy Chinese as a key target market.

The project looked at both the cultural background for gifting as well as hard data on which foods Chinese consumers want to buy and receive as gifts, and at what price. The study found two very distinct social groups within which gifting takes place in China.

The first was an inner circle of friends and family, where gifting was motivated by kinship and personal relationships. This was the most common gifting group and prices for gifts were generally around NZ$150, although, within this group, gifts for parents were higher, with an average spend of around $260.

The second group was an outer circle of relationships more often based on access to resources, opportunities or services. A giftee in this group included teachers, doctors, clients and employers. This group received gifts less often, but prices were higher, often around NZ$300.

In Chinese culture, gifting acts as a signal of the value of a relationship to both the giver and the receiver, helping to define the expectations each has for the outcomes of the relationship. Eighty-seven percent of those surveyed agreed that reciprocity is a Chinese tradition and the higher the price the more dignity and respect a gift represented.

How a gift looks was often cited as a key element in its value. Words like ‘classy’ and ‘good taste’ were frequently mentioned, and ‘exquisite packaging’ was considered a must. Food has long been a traditional gift in China, particularly during important festivals, and while today it must compete with fashion goods, alcohol, cigarettes, cosmetics and consumer electronics, it remains the top choice by a wide margin.

Ninety-eight of the survey respondents said they had bought food as a gift in the past 12 months and 93 per cent said half or more of all their gifts were food. They told us they gifted food mainly because it was useful and suitable for everyone.

Respondents said an ideal food gift should look healthy and nutritious (67 per cent), be safe (59 per cent), have a well-known brand (55 per cent) and have exquisite packaging (50 per cent). Chocolate might be the most popular gift, but 82 per cent of our survey agreed that health food gifts are growing in popularity. “It will never go wrong when you give them health,” said one focus group member.

While price, brand and packaging were the top three reasons quoted for assessing the value represented by a food gift generally, when we asked specifically about imported foods this shifted to brand, nutritional value and country of origin.

New Zealand fared well in the list of countries our survey group had purchased food gifts from. Twenty-nine said they had bought a kiwi food gift in the past year. Brand awareness and food safety were the most commonly quoted reasons for choosing New Zealand food as a gift. 

For more details and access to this research or other Plant & Food Research-led studies on Asian consumers, contact insights@plantandfood.co.nz

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