While the Chinese government struggles to stabilize the economy, one emerging industry has continued to grow over the past years, invigorated by a growing sensation for food with a close expiration date.
Food reaching near expired dates draws customers’ interest, particularly as they come with cheaper costs and are still safe for consumption. Packaged snacks, bread & pastries, and dairy goods are the top three most commonly purchased food categories in China.
According to a survey result by iiMedia Research Consulting, emerging in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry has continued to blossom. And it is predicted to increase at a 6% annual pace. In the three years to come, the sector is expected to expand its market size by 40.1 billion CNY (6.3 billion dollars) from 30 billion CNY (4.7 billion dollars) in 2020.
According to the South China Morning Post, China saw a rush of enterprises enter the soon-to-expire food sector last year, with new business registrations jumping from 12 in 2020 to 68 in 2021.
Merchants on Taobao, China’s largest e-commerce site, sell crisps, instant noodles, confectionery, and chocolate that are near to expiring for prices that are less than half of what they would cost in a store.
Young Chinese are the most welcoming demographic of this product, accounting for 70% of the overall consumers. 60% are from middle-income households.
A Weibo user shared, “It’s not expired, and it’s cheaper; even if I’m not broke, I will still buy it.”
Besides cost-efficiency, advocates of the trend saw the growing appreciation of near-expired products could be good for the environment and a solution to the Chinese government’s sentiment on food waste.
China’s leader Xi Jinping has been appealing to the nation about “food security” since 2020. Last April, the country also passed a prohibition on “mukbang,” or “eating shows,” Dining services must offer takeaway boxes for leftovers and serve smaller portions to restrict excessive consumption.
However, the demand for food near the expiration date does come with skeptics. According to Finance China, there have been instances where stores of exceptionally cheap products are selling those of poor quality and unknown origin.
Citing from Legal Daily, the outlet reported that some merchants in some of these stores have falsely marked the original price, or even changed the production date, and sold expired products to customers with them thinking they were just near the sell-by date.
In some stores selling expiring food, the merchants don’t even prominently mark the specific production date and the expiry time of the products.
According to the iiMedia survey, 67.8% of Chinese customers are concerned about food safety, while 50% are concerned about the accuracy of labeling information.
Even so, the industry has kept on booming, with soon-to-expire grocery stores now sprouting in Beijing and other top-tier cities.