Trends In China’s Meat Consumption Patterns
China’s meat consumption has increased steadily over the past three decades. Now, China is the world’s largest consumer meat market, comprising 30% of the world’s total in 2021. Although per capita meat consumption remains lower in China than in the U.S., Chinese consumers are purchasing more meat as incomes rise and the country continues developing.
To better understand meat consumption in China, a survey compared consumer habits in China with those in Germany, the Netherlands, the U.K., and the United States. The results identified several key trends that animal advocates should be aware of.
The Chinese meat market is divided. Meat is a regular part of the diet for more than half of Chinese consumers. The other 40% are “conscious consumers” who strive to eat little or no meat — everyone from vegans to omnivores who try to limit meat. Conscious consumers are mostly women. They also tend to be older, probably because older people grew up eating a mostly plant-based diet.
Chinese conscious consumers’ primary reason for limiting meat is their personal health. They also name diet variety and price as motivations. While conscious consumers in Western countries also focus on personal health, they tend to show altruistic motivations (namely animal welfare and reducing carbon emissions).
Chinese consumers are changing their purchasing habits. 60% of meat consumed in China is pig meat. “Poultry” and cow meat are the second and third most common, respectively. However, as consumers get richer, they may switch to cow meat, which is more expensive. Chinese consumers, especially those who can pay more, see the higher price of cow meat as a sign of higher quality. They think it’s healthier because of food safety issues that previously occurred in the pig industry. The number of high-income households is increasing in China, meaning more consumers may be willing to purchase meat viewed as high-quality and healthy.
Product safety and taste steer meat purchasing choices in China, with affordability ranking a distant third. Consumers care strongly about health and safety because of previous notable food safety issues, and because they’re worried the meat industry has low safety standards.
Demand for convenience also shapes meat consumption patterns. Chinese consumers increasingly eat more pre-prepared meat, ready-to-eat meals, and restaurant food. Trends also suggest that consumers, especially low-income consumers, are more willing to buy meat online. According to the authors of this report, China already has the infrastructure to meet this preference.
Consumers are more aware of sustainability issues but show little interest in plant-based alternatives. They’re aware of environmental sustainability issues but care most about issues that affect their own health, like antibiotic and hormone use. As a result, consumers show little interest in animal welfare or broader environmental issues. Meat alternatives are unpopular. Only 6% of Chinese consumers have eaten a meat alternative in the past month, compared to 30-40% of Western consumers. Chinese consumers have various objections to meat alternatives:
- 80% object to the taste.
- 20% object to the price.
- Nearly half object to the presence of additives.
- Nearly half don’t know enough about the nutritional value of alternative meats.
Understanding China’s meat consumption trends can inform advocacy strategies in one of the world’s largest markets. Advocates can take advantage of Chinese consumers’ concerns about meat by promoting plant-based proteins and alternative meats as healthier and safer alternatives that don’t have a history of food safety scandals. Chinese consumers don’t know about the nutritional value of alternative meats, which suggests that education would help. Advocates could also use Chinese consumers’ interest in convenience by promoting plant-based alternatives that are easy to prepare and consume.
However, the survey also shows the difficulties faced by animal advocates in China. Consumers show little interest in animal welfare. Conscious consumers tend to be old, and younger generations show less interest in reducing meat consumption. Consumers prioritize taste and don’t think alternative meats taste good. Advocates should have a clear view of the challenges they face in China if they want to help farmed animals worldwide.