With retail sales in 2015 estimated at 2,185 tonnes, China is by far the dominant market for cooking sauces across the Asia Pacific region, and the leading sauce market globally, according to Mintel estimates based on Economist Intelligence Unit data. In addition, the country’s economic prosperity and rising affluence has meant it has delivered consistently strong growth rates.

Chinese consumers use more than double the amount of sauces compared to Vietnamese or Indonesian consumers, but consumption per capita is still significantly lower than markets such as Thailand or Malaysia. This suggests that unless economic market conditions change considerably, we can expect market growth to continue at near double digit level for at least the next five years.

Soy sauces are, by far, the dominant segment of China’s cooking sauce market, but the last five years have seen significant growth in prepared sauces based on traditional Chinese recipes, such as the fish based XO sauce.

China’s Mintropolitans are core category users

Proprietary research conducted for Mintel’s Marketing to Mintropolitans—China, 2016 report has yielded a more refined and China-specific definition for the country’s influential consumers and dubbed the cohort ‘Mintropolitans’. Broadly, Mintropolitans are a significant and sophisticated consumer group that is well educated and pursue quality of life, and have been identified as the potential trendsetters in the country.

The sophisticated Mintropolitans are a core consumer for prepared cooking sauces and for cooking ingredients in general. They claim to have a much broader repertoire of cooking styles than non-Mintropolitans combined with significantly higher interest in a wide range of cooking sauce types. For instance, over half of Mintropolitan consumers consider themselves to have a high level of cooking sophistication compared to an average of less than two in five for all Chinese consumers.

Mintropolitans are also significantly more engaged with the cooking sauce market, consistently having higher use of sauces, regardless of type.

Natural, nutritious & healthy, buzzwords for the Mintropolitan consumer

One of the over-riding drivers for Mintropolitans is their desire for reassurance that foods are safe, nutritious and healthy. Mintel’s Marketing to Mintropolitans—China, 2016 report highlights a number of examples across many different food categories where Mintropolitan consumers demonstrate greater preference for natural and healthy claims. While natural and health claims are generally rated as important when buying sauces or seasonings by most Chinese consumers, these tend to resonate most strongly among Mintropolitans, with the majority of this cohort rating natural claims such as no preservatives, colourants or GM ingredients as very important. Consistently, the Mintropolitan group tends to react more positively than the wider Chinese public to natural or better-for-you claims. So, for brands, highlighting vegetable, fibre or protein content would likely create significant interest among Mintropolitans.

David Turner is Global Food and Drink Analyst at Mintel and joined the company in 2012. During a 20-year career in the food and drink industry, he has gained commercial experience in CPG and foodservice markets, leading the brand and private label marketing activity for major dairy, foodservice and spirits brands.

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