Chinese consumers shifting seafood-buying preferences from foodservice to retail

Published on
October 27, 2020

Imported seafood has taken a confidence hit in the minds of Chinese consumers, Mike Vinkenborg, project leader at Beijing-based market research agency Daxue Consulting.

Numerous outbreaks of COVID-19 have been linked to imported seafood, and now vendors must work hard to win back consumer trust, Vinkenborg told SeafoodSource.

“A small share of the consumer base now won’t eat seafood because of the links, especially if it’s frozen product,” Vinkenborg said.

In response to the shift, some seafood importers have diversified away from the restaurant sector by processing some of their imported product for retail, he said. That has occurred even as restaurants are back to 90 percent capacity in terms of customer footfall compared their pre-coronavirus numbers, Vinkenborg said.

“In China, everything is back to normal,” he said. “You can go where you want and there are no restrictions, other than for large events like football matches and concerts.”

While seafood has struggled in the foodservice realm, Chinese consumers are increasingly turning to seafood sold online as more urban professionals up their home-cooking, both as a result of COVID-related lockdowns and due to their increasing preference for health-conscious eating.

This could prove a boost for both online retailers like JD.com and Tmall.com, as well as traditional markets, which have experienced a surprising resurgence as a result of the home-cooking trend, Vinkenborg said. Also benefitting from the trend is the niche upmarket supermarket chain Hema Xiansheng, which has 50 stores in Shanghai, and competitors like Yonghui. Vinkenborg predicted both chains will continue to grow rapidly.

In all facets of seafood sales in China, traceability is becoming an increasingly powerful marketing tool, Vinkenborg said.

“If you can validate where your seafood is from, this is comfort for consumers, [and] you can sell at a higher price point,” he said.

Photo courtesy of Daxue Consulting

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