SHANGHAI: Foreign food brands have good growth opportunities in China, according to a new survey that revealed a clear preference among affluent and middle-income consumers for imported food.

Over three-quarters (80%) of high earners agreed that "foreign food brands are better", an opinion shared by 70% of middle-income respondents, according to a poll of 500 Shanghai residents by consultancy Data Driven Marketing Asia (DDMA), Jing Daily reported.

As Chinese consumers have become acutely aware of inadequacies in the domestic food chain – a total of 1,090 food scandals have been reported in the Chinese media over the last three years – and the DDMA survey appeared to confirm their concerns.

In all, 94% blamed "dishonest companies" for the food scandals, 92% said companies are not strictly supervised and 69% thought food is unsafe because of pollution.

With that in mind, foreign countries that were perceived as having a clean and healthy environment, strict supervision of the food industry, good governance and advanced food technology emerged as clear favourites for Shanghai's food shoppers.

New Zealand and Australia, in particular, were the two countries most-favoured, polling 73% and 72% respectively for the question, "which country are you most comfortable buying food from?"

Germany and the US were next in the national rankings, not so much because of their environmental reputation (unlike their Antipodean counterparts) but because of Chinese perceptions of their strong regulation and advanced technology.

Japan, at fifth, was cited by almost half (48%) of respondents while the UK, France, Sweden, Norway and South Korea rounded out the top ten.

The survey also found that 71% of high-income respondents "strongly" preferred restaurants that serve foreign food, 63% actively research foreign food brands before purchase and 59% seek out foreign food brands when shopping.

Meanwhile, the Financial Times reported that Tate & Lyle, the UK specialist food group, plans to extend its presence in China with the acquisition of Winway Biotechnology Nantong, a producer of a dietary fibre that is used as a low-calorie bulking agent. It is the company's second investment in China in the past year.

Data sourced from Jing Daily, Financial Times; additional content by Warc staff