by Houqing Liu, Manager, Grain Analysis Office, Satake Manufacturing (Suzhou) Co, Ltd, People's Republic of China


Since 1949, the food industry in China has experienced four stages of transition. During the first stage, the market suffered a shortage of products and the country experienced constant hunger. During the 1980's, the country began to produce sufficient products, as a result of agricultural policy reform and technology development, and the people were satisfied with the supply of food.

The period from the new millennium, until around 2015, is considered as a stage of food selection - consumers being able to select food that matched their desired taste from an abundant variety of products. 2015 onwards saw the start of a stage of functional foods.


Current statistics

For adults born in the first stage, especially the generation born in 1960's and 70's, satiety represents happiness since they remember the shortage of food. This is causing an over consumption of energy/fat resulting in a dramatic increase in the incidence of lifestyle disease in that age group. According to the 2015 data from China Food Daily and Guang Hua Best, there are 270 million hypertension sufferers, 92 million diabetics, over 100 million hyperlipemia sufferers, and 70 million obese patients in China.

Improvement in lifestyle and oversupply of food cause a continuous increase in chronic disease by over nutrition. Additionally, stress from pollution, work and social life is also considered as one of the major causes of the increase in lifestyle disease. Including potential patients, over 70 percent of the population requires some form of health improvement.

The lifestyle disease relates to both national development and economic growth. A study estimates the economic loss, due to production decrease caused by disease, is accumulated to be US $550 billion from 2005 to 2015. Dramatic changes in people's lifestyle and environment, caused by industrialisation, urbanisation and population aging of the nation, has resulted in a continuous increase in the number of lifestyle disease patients and deaths. It is said that less than three percent of white workers in Chinese major cities are truly healthy.

On Baidu, there are 123,449 searches for 'diet', and 25,628 searches for 'sleeping improvement', on a given single day. On the other hand, there are only 640 searches for 'health food', and 151 for 'health functional products'. The 2015 statistics published by the Chinese National Health Commission illustrates that only 6.8 percent of the population are knowledgeable in health-related information or are health conscious.

This indicates that the Chinese population has started to be more health-conscious but are still looking for a solution to maintain their health. The Chinese National Health Commission predicts that this number will grow to 20 percent by the year 2020.

Also, The General Office of the State Council of the People's Republic of China issued the 'Medium-to-Long Term Plan of China for the Prevention and Treatment of Chronic Diseases (2017-2025)' on January 22, 2017. According to the plan, the government will target a 10 percent decrease in the number of chronic diseases, currently 260 million between ages of 30-to-70, by 2020, applying effective preventative measures, and an additional 20 percent by 2025, through controlling the disease developing mechanism. The government is well aware of the issue and has started to take major counter measures to prevent it.


Functional food market in China

In general, increasing the number of a health-conscious population has a strong link to the food consumers economic and lifestyle well-being. The health product industry is considered as one of the fastest growing industries.

Often the industry's gross production amount is over 15 percent in advanced countries contrary to China's five percent, which illustrates the potential room for expansion in China. Also, non-medicine health related products are considered as still in their early development stage in China, whose market is estimated to grow to near US $100 billion by 2020, becoming a new driving force of the nation's economy.

It is widely known that once GDP per capita exceeds $3,000 and continues to grow, the market demand towards food product shifts from quantity to quality, followed by safety and eventually, health. In China, GDP per capita exceeded this figure in 2008 (The World Bank data) and is continuing to grow at an astonishing pace.

Meanwhile, Chinese disposable income has increased by over 200 percent by 2015. This increase in income, in addition to the population aging, is also an indication of a future increase in a health related product market. In particular, the functional food market is expected to double in size by 2020.


Satake's role in Chinese functional food industry

All these circumstances indicate that the Chinese food product market will soon, if not yet, start being geared towards a greater focus on the health functional aspects of it. Once that happens, Satake's time-proven grain processing technology is ready to contribute to this market.

One unique technology, which is already well received in the Chinese food product market, is GABA rice processing. This utilises the natural mechanism of the rice grain to increase the amount of GABA (gamma-amino butyric acid) ten-fold, a process that is also known to have many health benefits. Satake's strategy in the market consists of two aspects.

One is to cooperate with Chinese administration and its research institutes to develop a variety of functional foods and ingredients, not only utilisingrices but also other grains. Functional ingredients can be processed into food products such as noodles, drinks, snacks, in addition to rice, suitable to the Chinese food culture and to meet the consumers' preference.

Another is to develop an information network along with the government, producers, and consumers to spread scientific knowledge and health benefits of functional food products.

In our next article, Satake's GABA boosting technology and its mechanism will be illustrated in more detail.


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