Caroline Roux
As a Global Food & Drink Analyst, Caroline provides consumer insights and recommendations to dairy companies and tracks global innovation and consumer trends.

A decade after China’s infant milk formula (IMF) safety scandal, Chinese parents are becoming more confident about the safety of baby food products. Indeed, Mintel’s latest research on China’s IMF sector reveals concerns over the safety of food products among Chinese parents dropped 14 percentage points between 2013 and 2018.

Although Chinese parents are more relaxed about food safety today, it is important to note that food safety is still a concern for them.

Local infant milk formula brands need to strengthen their safety credentials

Recent efforts made by local Chinese dairy brands have turned things around for the dairy industry which is now regarded as safer and more reliable. According to Mintel research, nearly half of Chinese parents now trust local milk sources. However, they still hold less positive perceptions of IMF from China than those from international sources.

As a country of origin for IMF, China scored relatively low on most product attributes, lagging behind other regions. Australia and New Zealand are seen as safe sources of IMF, as is Western Europe.

The opportunity for local brands lies in their superior credentials as suppliers of products suitable for Chinese babies. In all, China’s local IMF brands still have work ahead of them to build their credentials, from food safety to nutrition, in order to become an appealing choice to parents of babies or toddlers.

Nutrition and absorption equally important

Alongside milk origin, nutrition and absorption have become the most influential factors of premiumisation for Chinese parents buying IMF. Most parents would pay more for a product that is more nutritious, can be better absorbed, and from a milk origin that is more pure and natural, according to Mintel research. Other perceptions such as fresh and organic are slightly less important considerations for Chinese parents. Though a hot trend in recent years, organic IMF is no longer considered one of the top premium features.

Biostime Pi-Star Supreme Older Infant Formula Milk Powder Stage 2, France
The product features the SN-2 Plus formula and is enriched with GOS, which contains dietary fibre and helps maintain normal intestinal function.

Mead Johnson Nutrition Enfamil A+ Infant Formula Milk Powder Stage 1, Netherlands
This product features the DHA Brainergy 360° formula that contains dietary fibre to maintain normal intestinal functions.

Renzhichu/New Born Jia Li Hu Chang Nutritious Rice Cereal, China
The ultra thin 0.3mm rice flakes in this product are easy to absorb. Containing Chinese yam, it delivers a pure and balanced nutrition, and improves a baby’s appetite.

What we think

Due to the food safety scandal in China many years back, local Chinese IMF brands still need to reassure Chinese parents on food safety and must keep working on strengthening their safety credentials. Meanwhile, since nutrition and absorption are of equally high importance, there is opportunity for brands to tap into parents’ desire for superior nutrition and better nutrient absorption.