Is China the future for chocolate?

The confectionery industry is a sweet line of business by itself, but it can be even sweeter in China, where market potential and a growing confectionery culture is leading to a new bonanza of sweets and chocolates.

Chocolate sales in China grew 58% from 2009-2013. They are expected to expand to USD 4.3 billion by 2019, rising nearly 60% from USD 2.7 billion in 2014, lifted by outstanding demand from the growing urban population, Bert Alfonso, president of Hershey International, forecast in a recent webcast at the Consumer Analyst Group of New York conference.

High-end market

Sales of China’s chocolate and confectionery boomed over the past five years after a handful of Western brands began entering the country in the 1980s. The maturing chocolate culture has prompted Chinese consumers to begin asking for a greater variety of premier products. China’s chocolate consumption is increasing 10% to 15% a year, as living standards rise and there is a growing acceptance of Western lifestyle.


So far, the top 20 chocolate makers have already presented themselves in the market. In a common supermarket in Shanghai, you can easily find over 70 brands of chocolate. Most of them are foreign brands. The big four (biggest four companies in China chocolate market: Dove, Ferrero, Cadbury and Leconte) have taken over 70% of the market. Of these, only Leconte is a local brand (Owned by COFCO, possibly Nestlé’s main international challenger). Among the three foreign brands, Dove alone has taken one-third of the market.

Foreign players go into lengths to ensure the quality of their products on the Chinese market. E.g., Hershey’s indicates on its packaging that it uses 100% imported milk.


Major potential

China’s current per capita chocolate consumption is very low at about 100 grams a person, compared with more than 10 kilograms in Europe. Even in Japan and South Korea, the figure is close to 2 kg. However, by 2016, 340 million Chinese will be middle class – more than the population of Western Europe – creating a huge market. Greater purchasing power – and the growth of large foreign retail chains – will boost consumption. This leaves plenty of room for business growth in China.

Milk chocolate is still the favourite flavour with Chinese consumers. However, in some developed regions of China, such as in the east, sophisticated customers are more likely to choose dark chocolate as it has an image of being healthier. This flavor’s share of retail value has more than quadrupled in five years to 34% in 2013. Of all the chocolate fillings, nuts are the most popular.

Selling Points of Chocolate

What are the factors to getting Chinese people buying chocolate ? A report shows that the No.1 factor Chinese consumers consider is the taste (30%), following by brand (18%) and price (7%).

  1. Taste

It’s true that in China, taste is the most important factor, but compared to western consumers, Chinese consumers don’t care about the taste nearly as much. A report shows 66% western consumers put taste as the most important factor, while only 30% of Chinese consumers think it’s the top factor.

  1. Brand

When chocolate came to China’s market, it was branded as an exotic food product which is an added extra value. And now the brand has become even more important. First of all, a big part of imported chocolates purchased in China are for gifts or ceremonial use like wedding candy.

For young Chinese men, chocolates, especially luxurious delicately packed chocolates have become a must to show their love to their girlfriends. During the Chinese Valentines’ Day this year, half of the top 10 items sold online were chocolates. That’s why imported chocolates are sold as high class food product.

Apart from their fancy look, imported chocolates also enjoys a fame of high class ingredients. With the growing concern for health and food safety, consumers are becoming more careful about the ingredients of chocolates and imported chocolate are trusted for containing more coco or milk.

  1. Price

When chocolate first appeared in China, the price for a box of imported chocolates was sky-high. Today, chocolate has become a common food product that most people can afford. But some chocolate brands are still famous for their high price such as Ferrero because Ferrero targets on high class chocolate market where price is an important tool to show its value.

A Chinese consumer can easily find reasons to buy a box of imported chocolate for its taste, brand and price. And what chocolate makers need to do is to produce nice chocolate, promote its brand and label with a suitable price.

Local players

Local competitors are still finding it hard to set up a premier brand recognition among Chinese consumers and adopted cheaper compounds to secure price competitiveness.

LeConte holds 6.7% market share and another local company, Golden Monkey (Shanghai), with 1.5% market, was recently acquired by Hershey, which took an 80% stake in this company.


Ingredients listed on the packaging of domestic cholocates:

  • LeConte milk chocolate: sugar, cocoa butter, whole milk powder, cocoa mass, skimmed milk powder, lactose, food additives (soybean lecithin, food flavour), cocoa butter 35% min., cocoa solids 40% min., milk solids 26% min. The cocoa beans are imported from Ecuador.
  • Golden Monkey milk chocolate (cocoa butter alternatives):sugar, hydrogenated vegetable oil, cocoa powder, milk powder, whey powder, salt, food additives (lecithin, polyglycerol ricinoleic acid ester), food flavour.

On the other hand, the higher prices of global players also scare away Chinese customers, who do not have the purchasing power of their Western counterparts. There is still room for growth in second-tier cities dominated by these lower-end products. This applies particularly to China’s vast rural population. The challenge for domestic players is to develop affordable chocolate products that apply to the various local tastes and habits.

Perhaps foreign tourists can be charmed into buying chocolate replicas of the famous terra cotta soldiers from Xi’an.


Eurasia Consult’s database of the Chinese food industry includes 123 producers of chocolate products.

Eurasia Consult Food knows the Chinese food industry since 1985. Follow us on Twitter.

Eurasia Consult Consulting can help you embed your business in Chinese society.

Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975.


2 thoughts on “Is China the future for chocolate?

  1. Pingback: China: the world’s biggest ice cream market | Peverelli on Chinese food and culture

  2. Pingback: Cocoa – Caught Between Demand And A Currency | Energy Traders

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