This is part 2 of China Skinny’s observations at the SIAL Exhibition. Check out part 1 here.

In addition to wafers, coconut products, nuts and inventive flavourings China Skinny observed a few more interesting trends at SIAL.

Rising trend of freeze dried food

Freeze dried food was one of the noticeable trends of the show.  Freeze dried involves pulling the water out of fruits and vegetables while leaving the taste, texture and nutrient content almost 100% intact. This makes for easy logistics and is growing in popularity with Chinese consumers. Popular freeze dried products were sweet potatoes, taro, corn and about any kind of berry.

Freeze Dried Fruit

One interesting observation was not only the freeze dried products promoted on their own, but also with other ingredients. For example, Singaporean brand Gulliver utilised freeze dried fruits inside their chocolate. Freeze dried fruits showed up in everything from chocolate to gummies, cereals and more.

Gulliver Chocolate with freeze dried fruits

Innovative packaging

As SIAL is ‘China’s largest food innovation exhibition,’ it is only fitting that innovative packaging is central to the show. From alternative snack packaging sizes to resealable packs, packaging within packaging (a big package with smaller packs inside) and different bottle materials and shapes.  There was no shortage of new sizes, styles and even shapes in packaging coming into China. What it comes down to is what sells.

A marketing manager of an Italian cookie brand stated that with all the packaging available, their best seller is big packs of cookies. Working alongside Walmart, the rep attributed the popularity of the big packs to their weight so consumers felt as if they were getting more for their yuan. The package is large and heavy, not filled with air like so many other packaged snacks. If the value play is driving sales, it shows the further complexities of the Chinese consumer – each brand has to have the right mix of characteristics to be considered for purchase.

Innovative Packaging in China


While nothing as big or blatant as Uncle Martian, this being China there are bound to be copy cats. Two of our favorites were a Nutella knock off and Ritz stand-in. There were also an increasing number of Chinese brands sourcing ingredients internationally. These products looked as if they were from abroad, but with a closer look it was clear the brand was Chinese. Products posing has foreign but in reality a Chinese brand are not likely to fool Chinese consumers who do much more research about their purchases than their Western counterparts.

Fake Nutella in China

Fake Ritz Logo

In conclusion

China is a competitive and fast changing market, something that can be seen at SIAL every year. What stuck with us the most was words from an imported sauce brand. This particular brand sells fish sauce and had tested with Chinese consumers who stated they liked the sauce and would use it at home. This was a product that is familiar to Chinese and fits their palate, but the brand representative said the product was not selling well in China and attributed low sales to the fact that the brand is not well-known among Chinese consumers. This goes to show that even if the product, packaging and price are perfect for your target market, the right marketing mix must be spot on for a chance at success in China. China Skinny can help with this.

Asia’s largest food innovation exhibition SIAL, comes to China every spring. This is a fresh opportunity to see what items are selling in China and looking to enter the market. On display are up-and-coming trends for products, packaging, positioning and more. China Skinny was at SIAL to track what’s new and below are some of our observations.

Wafers growing in popularity

With China being a snack-y culture, especially in offices, it was no surprise the amount of snack products displaying at SIAL. From crackers, cookies, chips and more from every place imaginable, the one product that was more prevalent than in the past was wafers. Brands and distributors we talked to said wafers have taken off. A Malaysian brand representative attributed the popularity of wafers to the fact that they are light in flavor and texture. He stated Chinese consumers liked wafers because they are not as dense as cookies and therefore have been selling better than their cookies. Another Korean brand believed that wafers lighter texture is seen as healthier than their cookie cousins.

Wafers at SIAL Shanghai 2016-2

Wafers at SIAL Shanghai 2016

Coconut products widely available and wanted

Coconut water is widely available in first and second tier cities in China, helped by Vita Coco’s entrance into China in 2014. The popularity of coconut products extends beyond water to coconut-flavored products and food made directly from coconut.

One Malaysian brand selling coconut water, oil, cream, flour and coconut-flavored ice pops and snacks said their coconut oil and cream were recent hot sellers. This was attributed the increasing interest in cooking and baking at home. Their coconut cream is a big seller as consumers use it to make desserts and perceive coconut cream to be healthier than traditional cream. The baking DIY trends indicates that more Chinese are not only interested in healthier products but are taking food into their own hands where they are more aware of what is going into it. This is likely to increase demand for baking utensils, classes and outlets for baking information and even ovens in their homes.

Kara Coconut Cream is popular in China

Nuts for nuts

There were many types of nuts exhibited at the show. From almonds, to pistachios, to pecans, Chinese have gone nuts for nuts. California had a strong showing with their nut associations, but the most interesting observation about the nuts being displayed was the variety in flavouring. Honey roasted was a popular flavor. Chili, roasted and wasabi flavours were also popular. We didn’t notice anything too out of the ordinary (no durian flavoured nuts) but the increase in the different types of flavorings on the nuts was a new to China trend.

Flavoured Nuts at SIAL May 2016

Nuts at SIAL May 2016

Flavours on flavours on flavours

Speaking of flavourings, there were some interesting and even unidentifiable varieties in the mix. From rose-flavoured (for beauty) to banana-flavoured everything, drinks, snacks and candies were the main carriers of flavours. In addition, we did notice more flavoured olive oil than previous years. Two other curious products to take on flavoring was honey and tea. Lemon, blueberry and even durian-flavoured honey were all displayed as was Cookies & Cream tea. Not sure how well the tea will go over as one exhibitor stated that it is hard enough to get consumers to try rooibos tea.

Flavours at SIAL May 2016

Rose Honey at SIAL May 2016

Strange Flavours at SIAL China May 2016

In Conclusion

Dairy, cereals and granola and wine were still prevalent throughout the exhibition indicating an ongoing strong demand for these products. The presence of frozen food was less expected. This made up a very small percentage of products at SIAL but was a bigger proportion than previous years. It was surprising as Chinese consumers typically don’t buy frozen items. This could also imply improvements in China’s cold chain logistics and a cultural shift to using freezers in apartments.

Check out Part 2 here.