Childhood obesity in China is rocketing, and the country also faces an epidemic of heart disease, Harvard researchers warned last year. Among the problems, they blamed growing consumption of red meat and high salt intake.
In April, the health ministry kicked off its second 10-year healthy lifestyle campaign, urging citizens to consume less fat, salt, and sugar, and aim for a “healthy diet, healthy weight, and healthy bones.”
By 2030, Beijing wants to see a marked increase in nutritional awareness, a 20 percent cut in the per capita consumption of salt, and slower growth in the rate of obesity, it said in its recently published ‘Healthy China 2030’ pamphlet.
Some companies have been urgently changing the mix of products they sell, going for higher-margin pork meats rather than volume. Sales of traditionally less popular lamb and beef have also been increasing.
Li of Harmony Catering says although servings of pork are down, the firm is including more beef and lamb in meals.
“People usually eat lean beef or lamb, like beef brisket, while with pork it’s both fatty and lean parts, like in ‘hong shao rou’,” said Beijing-based nutritionist Chen Zhikun, referring to the widely consumed braised pork dish.
China’s top pork producer WH Group has been going up market, selling Western-style products in China, such as sausages and ham. A lot of this is imported from Smithfield, the largest U.S. pork producer, which was acquired by WH in 2013.
Some producers say that the recent drop in pork consumption can be partly explained by sharply lower output. A prolonged period of losses during 2013 to 2015 forced farmers to cull millions of hogs, hitting supply and sending pork prices to record levels in 2016.
But for a growing portion of Chinese consumers, price tags on food items are less and less important. A spate of safety scandals in recent years, many related to meat, have made urban Chinese highly sensitive to food quality.
More than 80 percent of people in China surveyed by Nielsen last year said they were willing to pay more for foods without undesirable ingredients, much higher than the global average of 68 percent.
“China is in a new stage where consumption of pork and other foods is no longer a simple matter of ‘more is better’,” said Fred Gale, senior economist at the USDA.