A rising interest among young consumers to purchase soon-to-expire food has emerged in China, and the now booming industry could help combat the country’s food wastage problem. The soon-to-expire food industry is expected to grow from a market size of 31.8 billion yuan (US$5 billion) in 2021 to 40.1 billion in 2025, according to a report released last week by iiMedia Research Consulting. Soon-to-expire foods are still within their use by date, but are sold at grossly discounted prices, and having attracted the attention of younger consumers keen to save, the industry is expected to maintain a growth rate of 6 per cent until 2025. Innovations have also seen the market grow, from selling products in supermarkets and convenience stores to being readily available on online platforms, while it has also prompted the launch of businesses that exclusively sell soon-to-expire items. The items are still good for your health, they haven’t yet reached expiry, they’re cheaper and they help the environment Liu Jiayong “It’s because imported snacks are so expensive, so people buy them closer to the expiry date because they are cheaper,” said one user on China’s Twitter-like Weibo. Last year, China saw a surge in companies entering the soon-to-expire food market and new business registrations rapidly increased from 12 in 2020 to 68 in 2021. Stores like HotMaxx, HitGoo and Hema Fresh exclusively sell soon-to-expire foods, and overall the prices of their products are considerably lower than the average market prices. Liu Jiayong, a doctor from Beijing with over 500,000 followers on Weibo, shared a video about almost-expired foods, saying that “the items are still good for your health, they haven’t yet reached expiry, they’re cheaper and they help the environment”. During the coronavirus pandemic, more consumers have chosen to shop online, accounting for more than 30 per cent of sales, which provides an opportunity for soon-to-expire foods to enter the market. On Taobao, China’s largest e-commerce site, merchants are selling crisps, instant noodles, confectionery and chocolate that are close to their expiry dates and the prices are less than half the standard retail costs. More than 35 million tonnes of food – six per cent of China’s total food production – is lost or wasted annually, with around half at the retail or consumption end of the supply chain, according to a 2015 report by the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Beijing addressed concerns of food waste in its Clean Plate campaign, which targeted food waste and food sustainably, and in August 2020 President Xi Jinping reminded the nation that “we should still maintain a sense of crisis about food security”. Restaurants in China were ordered to offer takeaway boxes for leftovers and serve smaller portions to encourage sustainable consumption. The law, which was passed in April last year, also banned “eating shows” or “competitive eaters” on social media platforms, while video bloggers and platforms producing, publishing or broadcasting eating sprees online can face hefty fines. As the law drove people to be more environmentally and socially conscious, food bloggers began to share their love for soon-to-expire food. Some users on video sharing website Bilibili shared their trips to supermarkets as they returned with a full trolley of snacks having only taken 100 yuan (US$15.7) to spend. 5 major concerns for China’s food security Lily, a blogger on online community platform Douban, saw her channel gain attention soon after the law was passed as soon-to-expire food became more mainstream and less stigmatised. The “I love almost-expired food” group grew from 20,000 participants in the first two months after it was launched in September 2020 to over 60,000 a year later. It now has over 90,000 followers who share their experiences about buying soon-to-expire food. However, young people like Lily were drawn to such purchases not because of a concern for the environment, but due to the low prices. Those in the middle-income bracket are also the most common consumer of soon-to-expire products, according to iiMedia, with the most commonly bought items snacks, bread, pastries and dairy products. More than 50 per cent of soon-to-expire consumers in China will repurchase products every month, while nearly 80 per cent are willing to recommend the products to others, the report added. It’s not expired and it’s cheaper, even if I’m not broke I will still buy it Weibo user “It’s not expired and it’s cheaper, even if I’m not broke I will still buy it,” said another Weibo user. However, some look down on such consumers, saying that soon-to-expire goods are only for customers with little to no income. The iiMedia report added that 67.8 per cent of Chinese consumers were most concerned about food safety and 50 per cent about whether the labelling information is correct. Soon-to-expire grocery stores have started to appear in Beijing and other top tier cities for the first time. They sell a wide variety of products, and because the prices are much cheaper than ordinary supermarkets, the stores have quickly become popular among locals.