Coronavirus prompts dietary changes among Chinese consumers

10 March 2020 3 min. read

Only one in every five Chinese consumers have maintained their ordinary diets during the coronavirus outbreak according to a new survey from global consultancy Oliver Wyman.

A recent survey by global management consultancy Oliver Wyman conducted among 1,000 Chinese consumers has found that 80 percent of the respondents have altered their diets during the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak – including half of those ‘substantially’ – with animals and e-grocers the biggest winners. According to the survey, close to two thirds of local consumers have increased their online food shopping over the past month.

Fresh fruit and vegetable purchases have seen a significant spike (with those at the epicenter of the outbreak becoming more health conscious and keen for an immune-system boost) – with respectively 37 and 40 percent of respondents increasing their consumption of each category. Not all animals have fared well as a result of the virus however; the consumption of eggs and dairy has also jumped among 35 and 33 percent, as a protein alternative to limited fresh meat.

Rice, pasta and noodle buying has also increased among a good number of respondents, resulting in the largest net overall uptick among product categories. Here though, much of the purchasing has been made to stock up, with 55 percent of the sales put down to stockpiling. Frozen and chilled products are also up among 43 percent of consumers, with 57 percent filling up freezers to counter supply-chain disruption. Oddly, tinned food purchases have remained virtually steady.

Consumption changes in China due to coronavirus

Perhaps less of a surprise, purchases of vitamins, minerals and supplements (VMS) have also jumped, but here may have gained longer-term traction. “For the categorical changes, the shifts might revert back to the norm over time in many food categories. However, the positive trend for VMS products is likely here to stay,” said Oliver Wyman’s local Retail & Consumer Goods lead Jacques Penhirin. “This resurgence of the prevention mindset could be a real game changer.”

As might be expected with the widespread quarantine measures and desire to avoid potentially contagious fellow citizens, the ordering of groceries online has exploded – for what is an ecommerce segment which has to date experienced slower penetration rates compared to other consumer categories. Still China is already the largest e-grocery market in the world, and now 62 percent of local respondents have upped their online grocery shopping in the past month.  

While incumbents such as Tmall and Taobao have certainly cashed in with increased basket sizes and shopping frequency, the big winners here have been the up-and-comers. Over half of the Oliver Wyman survey respondents stated that they had expanded beyond their go-to platforms in an effort to meet their grocery needs during the crisis, with smaller platforms receiving a big boost in new acquisitions – 17 percent of respondents have tried MissFresh for the first time.

“Consumers are being more demanding, especially with heightened health concerns. This scenario lays the path for emerging vertical e-commerce players to catch up with or even leapfrog established integrated players,” said Penhirin. We view the current climate as a huge opportunity for smaller and niche e-commerce players. While larger players are clearly the first stop for most consumers, out-of-stock situations have driven them to explore other platforms.”