SHANGHAI: There has been a significant shift in Chinese consumer preferences when it comes to snacking, even over the past six months, according to a new study that says global brands can benefit from China's growing taste for healthy snacks.

Research firm Mintel revealed that a quarter (26%) of urban Chinese consumers are eating less chocolate confectionary today compared to six months ago, although 23% are reported to be eating more.

Furthermore, around two-thirds (63%) are eating more fruit and vegetables as snacks, 42% are eating more dairy-based snacks, while about 40% are choosing to snack on more nuts and seeds.

That is according to information from the Mintel Global New Products Database with the finding for China reported by Inside Retail Asia, which also noted that Chinese consumers are increasingly open to trying out snacks imported from abroad.

According to the Mintel research, as many as four in ten urban Chinese consumers are now interested in buying imported products that they haven't tried before.

About a third (34%) of these consumers have bought snacks from imported food stores, 28% made their purchases at local stores when travelling, while 19% have bought from foreign brand websites.

"As consumers continue to look for new and different flavour experiences, international snacks have become a sector that many consumers are gravitating towards," said Ching Yang, Senior Analyst at Mintel.

"E-commerce is an especially important channel for international snacks. It not only allows consumers to easily access foreign products, but also provides a less costly channel for international players to enter the Chinese market," she added.

Commenting further on the rapidly growing trend towards healthy snacking, Yang observed that Chinese consumers are now more aware – and concerned – about their sugar, salt and fat intake. Women are more concerned about calories while men care about protein, she added.

"With this in mind – and the fact that the average sodium level in China's meat snacks is lower than the global average and the level is decreasing over time – the 'reduced sodium' claim is still rarely seen on meat snacks and, therefore, could be leveraged to meet consumer needs," Yang said in a final piece of advice.

Data sourced from Inside Retail Asia; additional content by WARC staff