Chinese consumption of healthier snack foods helping expand walnut production


Villagers smile as they display newly harvested walnuts in Lutou village, Hebei province. (Photo / China Daily)

Quality-conscious Chinese consumers are pursuing healthier snack foods, like nuts, industry experts said. The experts predict the market will see a golden growth period with expanding scale and higher prices.

China is the second-largest nut producer worldwide, accounting for 10 percent of the world's total production. It's the largest producer of walnuts, one of four major types of nuts along with almonds, hazelnuts and cashews. China's walnut output makes up about half of the global total, according to Chinese Academy of Forestry.

This year, the United States, China, Germany, Russia and Turkey are predicted to become the top five markets for nuts. By 2023, nut sales are expected to reach $5.35 billion in China, up 13.8 percent from expected tallies in 2019, according to market research provider Euromonitor International.

"Nuts, as an important kind of snack food, are seeing growing popularity in China. With the increase of per capita income and the ongoing consumption growth in the country, Chinese people are eating more snack food," said Neil Wang, president of consultancy Frost & Sullivan in China. "But their average consumption volumes and values are still much lower than those in South Korea, Japan, the United States and Europe.

"Sales of nuts in specialty stores and on e-commerce platforms will be faster than traditional supermarkets. The category has considerable growth potential in China," he said.

Walnut planting areas in China account for about 300,000 hectares, located in six major growing areas.

In 2017, China produced 4.17 million metric tons of walnuts, more than double the output of 1.28 million tons recorded in 2010, according to Chinese Academy of Forestry.

"Walnuts have rich cultural connotations in China. There are some special varieties like heart-shaped walnuts that are grown in Northeast China. Items carved from walnuts like sculptures, accessories and playthings are also popular among Chinese consumers," explained Pei Dong, a senior walnut researcher at Chinese Academy of Forestry.

"With its high oil content, the walnut is also an important source to guarantee the supply of grain and oil in the country, and it is a critical food for export," she said.

Walnuts produced in China are mainly exported to Europe, Japan, Pakistan and Kyrgyzstan, according to Produce Report, a news media outlet that specializes in reporting food and agricultural products markets.

Like many other regions in the nation, a village in Fuping county, Hebei province, has more than 100 years of walnut-growing history, producing natural, fresh walnuts. Hampered by poor transportation links, the village has had a hard time selling its products.

In April, Chacha Food Co Ltd, a major Chinese producer of roasted seeds and nuts, and online retailer JD launched a crowdfunding platform online to help villagers innovate their technologies and products. The funds will also help support marketing and sales.

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