What’s the takeaway? Chinese ordering more meals online and eating less instant noodles

Researcher says trend shows consumers are becoming more interested in nutritional value than just ‘filling their bellies’

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 November, 2017, 2:07pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 November, 2017, 6:10pm

Chinese are eating fewer instant noodles but ordering more takeaways online, mainland media report, a trend one researcher says shows consumers are becoming more interested in nutritional value than price.

Sales of instant noodles were down by one-sixth – or eight billion packets – over the three years to 2016, National Business Daily reported on Sunday, citing industry association figures.

Takeaway orders placed online have meanwhile grown eightfold since 2011.

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“The fast expansion of the food delivery business has badly hit instant noodle makers,” Wang Yaohong, former deputy chief executive of Baidu Waimai, the food delivery unit of China’s biggest search engine, was quoted as saying.

Some 46.2 billion packets of instant noodles were consumed in China in 2013 – up 9 per cent from 2011 – but that figure fell 16.6 per cent to 38.5 billion packets in the three years to 2016, according to data from the World Instant Noodles Association.

The figures showed that Chinese had shifted focus to eating nutritious meals instead of just “filling their bellies”, Zhao Ping, director of global trade research at the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade, told the newspaper.

These changing consumer tastes have hit instant noodle makers. Revenues at Master Kong – the biggest producer – fell by one-third to US$3.2 billion in the three years to 2016, the report said. Its revenues had quadrupled to US$4.3 billion from 2006 to 2013.

For retailers, the margins are slim – one company, which was not named, told the newspaper it made just six US cents on every packet of instant noodles sold.

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Meanwhile, the online takeaway business has seen rapid growth in recent years. Cheap labour and competition between the big players has kept prices down, making the instant product less attractive to consumers who could instead order online and have a fresh meal delivered within 30 minutes, Wang told the newspaper.

“Sometimes these online takeaways are even cheaper than instant noodles if you take advantage of the promotions offered by these companies,” he added.

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On average, Chinese ate about 40 packets of instant noodles each last year – fewer than people in South Korea, Vietnam and Indonesia, according to online statistics database Statista. But China’s online takeaway orders accounted for 20 per cent of global food delivery revenues – the highest in the world.

The State Council, China’s cabinet, in September encouraged the food industry to develop more instant and frozen food products.