Chinese dairy giant Yili believes that local dairy consumption is on an upward curve due to a rise in consumer understanding of its health benefits due to COVID-19, as well as the advantages technology is bring in advancing innovation within the sector.
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Yili's Cute Star ©Yili

According to Yili, more and more consumers in China are turning to dairy products due to perceived nutritional and health benefits, a situation that has been accelerated by the onset of COVID-19.

“Affected by the COVID-19 epidemic, people are paying more attention to the intake of nutritious and health food, which has further stimulated people’s demands for dairy products, [which are] the most commonly selected health food that can effectively enhance nutrition and improve immunity,”​ Yili Innovation Centre Vice General Manager Dr Yun Zhanyou told FoodNavigator-Asia​.

“Public data has revealed that 52% of local consumers have said that after the pandemic, they will pay more attention to their health, especially their immunity, and will buy related products, [such as dairy].​

“[This was further boosted during COVID-19 by] many experts which promoted the increased intake of dairy, [as well as] a ​dietary guideline jointly published by four associations​​ which recommended a daily intake of 300 ml equivalent of milk, which significantly raised awareness of dairy consumption and health.”

Milk itself is predicted to see some of the largest growth as a result of COVID-19 – market analysis firm GlobalData has revised its previous prediction of the Chinese milk sector value to hit around US$31bn by 2030, as opposed to earlier predictions of US$29bn.

“[The] COVID-19 pandemic has forced Chinese consumers to focus on their health​. [That,] China’s heavy investments in modernizing its dairy industry for the past several years and [its] official promotion of milk consumption on the basis of its health benefits has prompted a surge in demand,”​ said GlobalData Consumer Analyst Ryan Whittaker.

“[Our research shows] a shocking 51% of respondents saying they were buying more white (regular) milk than before, and 34% who said they were buying the same as before [so] clearly, the milk category will do well during the pandemic.”​

China’s post-COVID-19 preferred dairy products​

Apart from regular milk, Chinese consumers are also showing a preference for dairy products that have immune-boosting properties or reduced-sugar content post-COVID-19, in line with the rising health trend.

“After COVID-19, consumers are tending to choose products with functions of boosting the immunity system [for health reasons] – The younger generation, the middle-aged and elderly consumers all have begun to pursue a healthy lifestyle and diet,”​ said Dr Yun.

“Probiotic-containing products also saw a boost in 2020, [likely partially because] in the diagnosis and treatment scheme for COVID-19 patients issued by the China National Health Commission (NHC), probiotics was suggested as an aid to treat patients.​

“At the same time, we can also see the increasing demand for sugar reduction by young consumers, especially females.”

Technology boost​

Dr Yun pegged another key factor for dairy growth in China as technology, applicable for both when it comes to innovation and consumer outreach.

“[In terms of innovation], consumer insight is key to product R&D for Yili – [we have a focus on healthy innovation and R&D], and i​n the first half of this year, we have already launched new products such as CUTE STAR naturally DHA rich milk, Satine fresh milk and Plant Selected high-protein sugar-free soybean milk,”​ he said.

“Yili has developed [our own] big data platform to comprehensively scan consumers’ online and offline purchase data, [as well as] provide data to support our R&D and new product launches. ​

“We have also set up a special R&D team to communicate with consumers online, to help them understand health knowledge such as dietary nutrition, and the benefits of milk drinking.”​

As for consumer outreach, Dr Yun said that Yili is focusing on using technology to build e-channels that will improve consumer experience when buying their products.
“E-commerce sales have been accelerating quicker than ever after COVID-19, [and] Yili has responded by making many attempts in constructing our E-channels,”​ he said.
“So far we have and [initiatives such as] social marketing, O2O (online-to-offline) home services, unmanned convenience stores and more, which we [have] received good market feedback on.”​

Yili was named the world’s most valuable dairy brand and second-most valuable food brand by brand value agency Brand Finance; as well as the most selected brand in China by the Kantar Consumer Panel in its Asia Brand Footprint Report 2020​ earlier this year.

It’s been over a year since the COVID-19 pandemic caused milk prices to plummet…

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