Importing food to China is popular among all Chinese demographics. It satisfies the Chinese middle class’s desire for high-quality and luxury products from abroad.
If you may wonder why that is, food has actually always been a very important part of daily life for Chinese people. This includes shopping for fresh food and cooking from scratch every day. The Chinese enjoy food as an important element of family and business. They believe that eating good food can bring harmony and closeness to family and (business) relationships.
Are you curious about exporting food to China, but not sure how to comply with the country’s strict and ever-changing import regulations and decrees? Then maybe the CBEC model is a viable alternative for you.
Take a deep dive into the Middle Kingdom’s imported food industry with the China experts at China Gravy.
The Food Industry in China
China’s annual import value of processed foods and beverages increased by 85% to almost 96 billion USD between 2016 and 2020. The main countries of origin are New Zealand, Australia, Thailand, Indonesia, and Brazil.
China’s 1.4 billion population, the constantly rising living standard of the average Chinese people, and the vastly growing middle-class demand foreign-made products. These sought-after imported products represent status, safety, and health, which is especially relevant because local Chinese counterfeit and harmful products unsettled Chinese consumers in the past.
Today, Chinese consumers pay particular attention to a combination of safety, price, and ingredients. Besides, they place emphasis on the status that imported products represent – being able to afford these more expensive and overall “better” products – as well as the emotional component – the “good feeling” of buying and using original products, e.g. olive oil from Greece.
The highest imports in the food sector into China are meat, dairy, oil, alcohol, candy/cookies, and seafood. Alongside the current fitness trend, the Chinese interest in organic, plant-based, and healthy foods including supplements is rising.
With this in mind, the potential for healthy high-quality imported food and beverages in China is limitless. The high reputation of foreign goods also makes them ideal gifts for doing business in China as well as for private occasions. For example, imported wine is a popular gift among business people.
General Trade Food Import
Foreign (food) products are often imported through traditional offline wholesale markets like distributors in China or China Resources Vanguard that sell their products through nationwide supermarkets. Likewise, foreign wholesalers like Costco are starting to open stores in China.
If your business has a legal entity in mainland China, you can directly import your goods from abroad. If this isn’t the case, a legal entity in China (subsidiaries, trade agents, Chinese manufacturers, distributors) can import foreign goods for you.
This entity handles the import process for you, including customs clearance, duties, taxes, and so on. Once the goods are imported, they can be sold (1) in physical retail shops or (2) online through own stores or online marketplaces like Tmall, JD, or Pinduoduo.
Cross Border Ecommerce Food Import
In case a business doesn’t have a Chinese entity, foreign products can be imported to China easier through the so-called Cross-Border Ecommerce at preferential duty rates and without a license to operate a business in China. Overall, this is much easier than the regular import procedure to China. Keep in mind that there is a positive list of products that are allowed to be imported via CBEC into China, and some products are not authorized.
The Chinese CBEC method is a fully separate, official, and state-sanctioned trade channel for imported goods. It refers to a direct import of goods from outside Mainland China, and relies on the use of CBEC platforms like Tmall Global (tmall.hk) and JD Worldwide (jd.hk).
A foreign legal entity can export its products to a bonded warehouse in China (B2B2C) or via a direct mail (B2C) model. Custom clearance is only triggered after an online order, and the consumer pays duties and taxes on the retail price. In terms of Chinese online shops, an own website, a WeChat shop, or a marketplace e.g. on tmall.hk or jd.hk can be used.
Finally, CBEC goes hand in hand with the latest online marketing trends like live streaming, short videos, and KOL influencer marketing.
General Trade vs. CBEC
When selling foreign goods in China, the main differences between the two options are:
- General trade: seller-driven, partner-reliant, higher profit margin, lengthy process
- CBEC: consumer-driven, shorter value chain, fewer risks for foreign business, no import/export license needed, lower profit margin, faster process (capital required for deposit and commission)
For smaller businesses and brands that are new to the Chinese market, CBEC is a much easier and faster way to sell goods in China, although deposit costs for opening online stores and marketing expenses must be considered.
Licenses & Regulations
Generally, for non-CBEC imports, the Chinese PRC Food Safety Law (2021) regulates the production, circulation, recall, and import/export of food products in the Middle Kingdom. This ensures that food quality and integrity are maintained through safety, hygiene, and other standards.
The National Medical Products Administration (NMPA) is a ministry-level agency responsible for drafting laws, regulations, rules, and policy plans on the administration and supervision of food in China.
Until 2013, the NMPA was called China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA), which was based on the State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA).
Producing, trading, and/or selling food in China requires a license (food safety and quality). Besides, a food import and export license is required as well as a food inspection by the local Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau.
According to order no. 248, which became effective on 1 January 2022
- all food manufacturers and distributors must register with the General Administration of Customs of China (GACC)
- new label requirement includes a registration number
Now, let’s take a look at how to import food to China.
Ways of Importing Food to China
Basically, there are three ways to import food (and other products) to China.
We have listed these options in order from easiest (for smaller brands to test the market or to import specialty products) to more complex (for larger brands with established awareness and reputation to expand their business).
- China Distributors (e.g. 1688, Baidu B2B, Tmall TDI)
- CBEC (e.g. tmall.hk, jd.hk)
- Own Chinese Import Export Company via Local Platforms (e.g. Tmall.com, JD.com, Pinduoduo)
Let’s take a closer look.
1. China Distributors
Generally, distributors handle the whole supply chain and logistics process. This option may be best for those who are smaller and larger businesses that are new to the Chinese market or want to expand their reach. However, this method has lower profit margins overall.
Finding and collaborating with the ideal distributor for your product and needs can be challenging. We have compiled everything you need to know about China distributors for launching your brand in China.
Foreign products generally can be imported to China via the cross-border ecommerce method. The main marketplace platforms for this are www.tmall.hk and jd.hk. Starting your own ecommerce shop on your website or WeChat shop are also an option but requires more intense marketing efforts.
Keep in mind that this is only possible for whitelisted CBEC food product groups.
According to the Chinese cross-border ecommerce retail import tax policy, the following tax rates apply as long as the value of goods is (1) below RMB 5,000 (~740 USD) for individual transactions, and (2) below RMB 26,000 (3,900 USD) per buyer per year.
- Tariff rate: 0%
- Import VAT and consumption tax: 70% of the statutory tax payable
The calculation is as follows:
- Taxes = unit price x number of pieces x comprehensive tax rate for cross-border ecommerce
- Cross-border ecommerce comprehensive tax rate
- Standard (no consumption tax, e.g. beer) = 70% of VAT
- Consumption tax (e.g. wine) = [(consumption tax rate + VAT rate)/(1-consumption tax rate)]×70%
These reductions can only be deducted from the amount of the product, and the shipping fee is subject to tax. If the goods are returned for personal reasons, the taxes and fees will not be refunded. In case the goods are returned due to problems with the product itself, the taxes and fees may be refunded by the respective ecommerce platform.
Now, let’s take a look at the specific tax rates for products that are legally possible to be imported via the CBEC method. This also gives you an indication of what foreign products are sought-after by Chinese consumers.
In the food category, liquids (milk, oil, juices), alcohol (wine, beer), and snacks are popular CBEC products.
|Category||VAT||Consumption Tax||CBEC Tax|
|Cereal, potato chips, puffed food||13%||0%||9.1%|
|Instant bird’s nest||13%||0%||9%|
So, if you are wondering how to export food and beverages to China, China’s largest CBEC platforms – Tmall Global and JD Worldwide – are an excellent place to get started. Let’s take a look.
In 2014, Alibaba, launched the CBEC platform Tmall Global (tmall.hk), which is separate from Tmall (tmall.com) and has now become the largest Chinese cross-border ecommerce platform with a market share of more than 30%. The platform has about 500 million monthly users.
Tmall Global currently offers more than 20,000 brands from 77 countries, making it the ideal marketplace for foreign brands to sell directly to Chinese consumers without a company or physical presence in China.
Using Tmall Global requires registering a Taobao account online or downloading the Taobao app (淘宝) from the Google Play store or Apple store. Alternatively, you can login with a Weibo account online or through the Weibo app.
In theory, registering these accounts works with any email address, Chinese or international phone number. In practice, attempting to register these accounts outside of China is challenging with various system error messages, e.g. phone number format not recognized.
In the food sector, the most popular brands on Tmall Global are Kroger, Nestlé, Aldi, Woolworths, Perrier, Lidl, emart, Doppelherz, Unilever, and Mars.
Upon searching for 进口食品 (imported food) to get an overview on Tmall Global in September 2022, these were the main results: 28,319 results (products) and 1,307 shops.
|Swisse: Australian supplements||NATURELAN||小月神||CAUDALIE/欧缇丽|
|AMWAY/安利||Nature Made/天维美||GO healthy||Unisom|
|LIFE SPACE: Australian supplements||Nature’s Way（澳大利亚）||爱司盟||意之宝|
|KIRKLAND Signature/科克兰||Bio-E||Natures Aid||Bioloving|
|Jamieson/健美生: Canadian supplements||huebner||UNIKALK||Careline|
|Herbalife/康宝莱||nature’s truth||This Works||大哥|
|NOW/诺奥||SALUS||Nestle Health Science/雀巢健康科学||Morinaga/森永（日本）|
|One a day||NATUREWISE||Hubner||Triomar|
|Healthy Care: Australian supplements||OPPULAND/欧普兰||Biocyte||wagner|
|GNC/健安喜: US-American supplements||ORIHIRO/欧力喜乐||舞昆||OMEGOR|
|Doppel Herz/双心: German supplements||Lay’s/乐事||nutrimexx||VitaRealm|
|Isdg: Japanese supplements||Green Max/马玉山||RAPID||白猫|
|FANCL: Japanese supplements||inomata||medicura||samlip|
|BLACKMORES/澳佳宝: Australian supplements||AFC（日本）||ARRAVITE||PhD（英国）|
|Move Free/益节: US-American supplements||AZO||Fairvital||酒豪传说|
|Doctor’s Best: US-American supplements||Metamucil||HERB EQUATION||health home|
|Puritan‘s Pride/普丽普莱||Nestle/雀巢||AGEPHA Pharma||UNCLE TOM|
|Confidence USA: US-American supplements||SVELTY||A.S Amansong||Vinsic（保健品）|
|Herbs of Gold||elevit/爱乐维||herbaland||WAKAMOTO|
|NOROMEGA||black peach||FOR BECARED ONE||bio well|
|Nature’s Bounty/自然之宝||Orthomol/奥适宝||AMMEX/爱马斯||Natural Life|
|Garden of Life||Catalo/家得路||NUTRA·LIFE/纽乐||Venus Recipe|
|POLA/宝丽: Japanese supplements||Royal Oak Health||Anthogenol||Eric Favre|
|WARNKE VITALSTOFFE: German supplements||AXXZIA||rxon||Sunbio|
|metabolic||life extension: US-American supplements||NPSSUPP||menevit/爱乐维|
|Ostelin/奥斯特林||Omni BioTic||CELFULL||Osteo Bi-Flex|
Tmall Global Import Supermarket (TDI)
Tmall Global even has a dedicated import supermarket 天猫国际进口超市 (直营) that acts as a distributor for international goods. The 直营 in brackets stands for direct sales, meaning the shop is managed by Tmall directly, including marketing, logistics, and so on.
TDI is ideal for smaller brands outside of China that want to test the Chinese market without opening their own shop right away and at minimal risk (manageable and predictable financial investment).
This direct consignment model is optimized for fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) and top-selling goods (SKUs). Brands can choose to invest in marketing for their products on this Tmall platform.
This store describes itself as a lifestyle supermarket offering the best selection of imported goods from all over the world to their Chinese customers.
Tmall Business Models
The main differences between the international Tmall business models are as follows:
|Tmall Global Store (TMG)||Tmall Direct Import (TDI)||Tmall Global Ministore||Tmall Overseas Fulfillment (TOF)|
|Model||Brand manages its store on Tmall Global or with the help of a Tmall Partner||Import procurement program; direct purchases from global brands and direct sales to Chinese consumers||Shop in Shop (TDI)||Consignment|
|Warehouse||bonded||Bonded; six warehouses worldwide||bonded||Alibaba overseas warehouses; TOF centers currently in Japan, South Korea, USA; expansion plans to Europe|
|Payment||Local currency||Local currency||Local currency||Local currency|
|Marketing & Sales||Brand or Tmall Partner||Tmall Global||Tmall Global||Tmall Global|
|Ownership of customer data||Brand||Tmall Global||Tmall Global||Brand, Tmall Global|
|Who is it for||Brands that want more control over the process, higher margin||Brands that want to outsource most of the process, lower margin||Low cost market entry, ideal for SMEs||Flexible inventory, ideal for testing|
Alibaba-owned Taobao (C2C) is one of the most visited websites in the world. It has more than 1 billion products listed and almost 500 million monthly active users.
Most Chinese consumers shop for local and international products on Taobao, which displays both Tmall (local) and Tmall Global (foreign) brands.
As an example, we’ve searched for 橄榄油 (olive oil) on Taobao as an example to demonstrate how the listings and products are displayed. See the screenshot below (left to right).
- XEAOTO Mediterranean: purchase via Taobao
- Olivoilà: purchase via Tmall
- XEAOTO Mediterranean: purchase via Taobao
- ABRIL: purchase via Tmall Global (TDI)
JD first specialized in electronics and today offers a wide variety of products on JD Worldwide for global B2B imports. The platform has more than 20,000 brands, more than 10 million SKUs, and about 335 million annual active users. JD Worldwide is an import business and incubator for overseas new products and brands to enter the Chinese market.
As JD’s major stakeholder is Tencent (WeChat, QQ), JD products are also displayed on WeChat when searching for products and can be purchased via WeChat Pay.
Compared to Tmall Global, JD Worldwide is less expensive overall while massively investing in high tech to realize drone delivery and autonomous driving vehicles.
When searching for 进口食品 (imported food) on JD Worldwide in September 2022, these were the results:
A total of 7,533 products/brands are listed on JD Worldwide under imported food. The most sold products are Danisa, Meixin, and Knoppers, who all have their own flagship stores.
At the moment, due to global logistics issues and supply chain disruptions, fewer than usual CBEC products are available in China, in particular, on JD Worldwide, where the filter has to be changed specifically to remove out-of-stock products. This last step was necessary in Q3/2022 to see any olive oil products available – otherwise, none were visible.
- JD Mall (京东进口超市): an import supermarket like Tmall’s TDI
- Sam’s Club
- The Hyundai: a D2C store
Top brands (品牌)
- 皇冠（Danisa): Danish butter cookies
- 美心（Meixin): Chinese moon cakes and wafer waffles
- 莱家（LOACKER): Italian wafer waffles
- Knoppers: German chocolate wafer waffles
- 钙芝（Cal Cheese): Indonesian cheese crackers
- 百乐顺（Bahlsen): German biscuits
- 爱时乐（Astick): wafer biscuits
- 杰克布森（Jacobsens): Danish cookies
- 好丽友（ORION): Chinese small custard pies
- 三立（Sanritsu): Japanese cookies
- 波路梦（Bourbon): Japanese cookies
- 格力高（Glico): Japanese biscuits
- 不二家（FUJIYa): Japanese cakes
- 沃尔克斯（Walkers): Scottish shortbread
3. Own Chinese Import Company/Chinese Subsidiary
This option may be more suitable for those who already understand the Chinese market and have established brand awareness, business networks, and partners, as well as an understanding of the logistics and administrative processes.
While this method may require advanced business knowledge, the profit margins are higher. The largest ecommerce platforms in China are Tmall (tmall.com) and JD (JD.com). The most relevant social ecommerce platforms are Xiaohongshu and Douyin, and one of the biggest B2B platforms is Alibaba’s 1688.com.
Case Study: Olive Oil on Tmall Global & JD Worldwide
Olive oil is rapidly gaining popularity in China with steeply rising imports. In 2021, almost 145 million USD worth of virgin olive oil was imported into the Middle Kingdom. That’s an increase of 17% compared to the previous year, which can partly be attributed to the global health trend which is also taking China by storm.
Overall, olive oil from Spain and Italy is most popular in China. In recent years, olive oil is also gaining popularity as a valuable foreign gift for business and private occasions, similar to imported red wine.
Olive Oil on Tmall Global
As you can see on the screenshot below, when searching on tmall.hk for 食用特级初榨橄榄油 (edible extra virgin olive oil), the following results appear.
By clicking 更多 (more) on the right-hand side, filters for brands and more appear. A total of 90 olive oil products (19 brands) were listed as a result of our search in August 2022.
In the table below, we’re taking a closer look at the olive oil brands and examining their most popular product in terms of sales, price, and the number of reviews.
|Brand||Shop||Third-Party Shop/Own Shop||Number of products on tmall.hk||Sales per month||Price||Reviews|
|ABRIL (艾伯瑞特) – Spain||Tmall Global Overseas Direct Sales TDI Shop & Distributor Flagship Store by Metro (麦德龙官方海外旗舰店)||Third-Party Shop||9||1000+||4×1 liter bottles for 219 RMB ( promotion) => 54.75 RMB/liter||7,843|
|BETIS (贝蒂斯) – Spain||Tmall TDI Shop||Third-Party Shop||10||100+||1x 250ml bottle for 49 RMB => 196 RMB/liter||31|
|MUELOLIVA (品利) – Spain||Tmall TDI Shop||Third-Party Shop||9||83||2x 750ml bottles for 109 RMB (promotion) => 72.67 RMB/liter||313|
|clemente – Italy||Tmall Overseas Flagship Store (海外旗舰店)clemente||Own brand shop||4||64||1x 1.5liter bottle for 89 RMB (promotion) =>59.33 RMB/liter||83|
|La Española (莱瑞) – Spain||Tmall Overseas Flagship Store (海外旗舰店) La Española||Third-Party Shop||25||50||1x 200ml bottle for 49 RMB (promotion) => 245 RMB/liter||140|
|Kidonakis – Greece||Tmall Overseas Flagship Store (海外旗舰店)KIDONAKIS||Third-Party Shop||29||48||1x 250ml bottle for 128 RMB (promotion) => 512 RMB/liter||17|
|GENESSA – Spain||Kaola Flagship Store||Third-Party Shop||1||42||1x 750ml bottle for 128 RMB (promotion) => 119 RMB/liter||2,426|
|Plasmon (派乐萌) – Italy||Tmall Overseas Flagship Store (海外旗舰店) Plasmon||Third-Party Shop||1||27||1x 250ml bottle for 99 RMB (promotion) => 396 RMB/liter||52|
|Baiduoli/Abaco (佰多力) – Spain||Tmall TDI Shop||Third-Party Shop||9||24||1x 200ml bottle for 49 RMB (promotion) =>245 RMB/liter||12|
|Borges (伯爵) – Spain||Tmall TDI Shop||Third-Party Shop||5||20||1x 2liter bottle for 125 RMB (promotion) => 62.50 RMB/liter||3|
|MolonLave – Greece||Tmall Overseas Flagship Store (海外旗舰店) MolonLave||Third-Party Shop||3||16||1x 500ml bottle for 78 RMB (promotion) => 156 RMB/liter||16|
|Ajinomoto – Japan||Tmall Overseas Flagship Store (海外旗舰店) ajinomoto||Third-Party Shop||4||11||1x 600g bottle for 92 RMB (promotion) => 153.33 RMB/liter||118|
|Jason – Germany||Tmall Organic Store Jason Better Food For Life||Third-Party Shop, Ministore (直营品牌站)||2||7||1x 250ml bottle for 29.80 RMB (promotion) => 119.20 RMB/liter||55|
|EKOPLAZA – Netherlands||Tmall Overseas Flagship Store (海外旗舰店)EKOPLAZA||Third-Party Shop||3||5||1x 500ml bottle for 79 RMB (promotion) => 158 RMB/liter||1|
|mesavounos/迈萨维诺 – Greece||Tmall Import SUpermarket||Third-Party Shop||1||4||2×1 liter bottles for 259 RMB ( promotion) => 129.50 RMB/liter||0|
|BRAGG – USA||Tmall TDI Shop||Third-Party Shop||1||1||1x 946ml bottle for 201 RMB (promotion) => 212.47 RMB/liter||1|
There are several Tmall Global stores with different local and international brands as well as distribution and shipping modalities:
- 天猫国际进口超市: Taobao Worldwide TDI Shop, products shipped from outside China
- 天猫国际进口超市国内现货: Tmall Global Overseas Direct Sales TDI Shop, products shipped from within China
- 天猫国际现货平价店: Yangtao MZ World by Alibaba, Tmall Global affiliate, products shipped from within China
- 天猫国际省心社: Yangtao Global by Alibaba, Tmall Global affiliate, products shipped from outside Greater China Tmall Global
Now, let’s take a more detailed look at the product display on tmall.hk.
Product Listing Example of Abril Olive Oil
In the screenshot below, you can see a purple frame around the product, which indicates that it is available in the Tmall Global Supermarket (a Tmall-operated distributor for brands that don’t have their own Tmall Global shop).
As you can see in the screenshot below, the country of origin is Spain, the price is 119 RMB (~18 USD) for two bottles with a discount of 59 RMB off the original price of 178 RMB.
Besides, there is a short description of the product as well as a link to the Abril olive oil in the Tmall Global supermarket. There, 2 bottles of Abril olive oil are sold for 178 RMB (~26 USD).
This product is selling 600 bottles per month on average and has received 4,053 reviews so far on Tmall Global. On the Supermarket page, 23,791 have saved this product.
Shop Page Analysis (Example La Española)
The screenshot below shows the Tmall Global (tmall.hk) flagship store of the olive oil brand La Española.
- 描述 Description: 4.8 (plus 21.67% compared to other stores in the same industry)
- 服务 Service: 4.8 (plus 19.95% compared to other stores in the same industry)
- 物流 Logistics: 4.9 (plus 25.2% compared to other stores in the same industry)
The registered shop operator is Baozhun Hong Kong Holding Ltd. – functioning as the marketing agency of the La Española shop.
Keep in mind that in China, positive developments are typically displayed in red color while negative developments are usually displayed in green color (opposite to how it is customary in the Western world).
Olive Oil on JD Worldwide
When searching on JD.hk for 食用特级初榨橄榄油 (edible extra virgin olive oil), the following results appear, as you can see in the screenshot below.
The equivalent to the Tmall Global Supermarket is the JD Worldwide Supermarkt.
On JD.hk, a total of 55 olive oil products (13 brands) were listed as a result of our search in August 2022.
In this table below, we are taking a closer look at these brands and examining their most popular product regarding sales, price, and number of reviews.
|Brand||Shop||Third-Party Shop/Own Shop||Number of products on JD.hk||Sales per month ranking||Price||Reviews|
|Borges (伯爵) – Spain||Beijing China Enterprise Huaye Food Flagship Store||Third-Party Shop||1||1||1x 750ml bottle for 69 RMB (promotion) => 92 RMB/liter||2,200+|
|BRAGG – USA||BRAGG Overseas Flagship Store||Own Shop||1||2||1x 946ml bottle for 219 RMB (promotion) => 231.50 RMB/liter||10+|
|A Casalbert Since 1959 – Spain||CASALBERT Overseas Official Flagship Store||Own Shop||16||3||1x 5 liter bottle for 399 RMB (promotion) => 79.80 RMB/liter||20+|
|Manni – Italy||National Pavilion + Italian Overseas Pavilion Store||Third-Party Shop||13||4||1x 250ml bottle for 324 RMB (promotion) => 1,296 RMB/liter||3|
|Alberta Iannicelli Ceraso 1898 – Italy||National Pavilion + Italian Overseas Pavilion Store||Third-Party Shop||12||5||1x 500ml bottle for 353 RMB (promotion) => 706 RMB/liter||10+|
|皇冠 (AZEITE ROYAL）- Portugal||Crown Olive Oil Flagship Store||Third-Party Shop||1||6||1x 500ml bottle for 138 RMB (promotion) => 276 RMB/liter||20+|
|Olitalia – Italy||Taiwanese Overseas Flagship Store||Third-Party Shop||3||7||1x 1l bottle for 168 RMB (promotion)||100+|
|Deleyda – Chile||Los Andes Beltroad Overseas Store||Third-Party Shop||2||8||1x 500ml bottle for 50.48 RMB (promotion) => 100.96 RMB/liter||100+|
|California Olive Ranch – USA||iHerb Overseas Official Flagship Store||Third-Party Shop||1||9||1x 500ml bottle for 237.02 RMB (promotion) => 474 RMB/liter||60+|
|Terra Delyssa – Tunisia||Costco Overseas Official Flagship Store||Third-Party Shop||1||10||1x 1liter bottle for 158 RMB (promotion)||20+|
|Gaea – Greece||iHerb Overseas Official Flagship Store||Third-Party Shop||1||11||1x 500ml bottle for 155 RMB (promotion) => 310 RMB/liter||80+|
|Azercay – Azerbaijan||National Pavilion (a JD distributor) – Azerbaijan National Brand Pavilion||Third-Party Shop||1||12||1x 500ml bottle for 46 RMB (promotion) => 92 RMB/liter||60+|
|味之素(Ajinomoto) – Japan||YEGO Overseas Official Flagship Store||Third-Party Shop||1||13||1x 70gr bottle for 509 RMB (promotion) => 7,271.43 RMB/liter||0|
Comparison Olive Oil: CBEC vs. Direct Import
When searching for 食用特级初榨橄榄油 (edible extra virgin olive oil) on China’s most popular online shopping platforms in September 2022, direct import platforms have significantly more products and range compared to CBEC platforms.
Nonetheless, CBEC platforms – Tmall Global and JD Worldwide in particular – are excellent as
- a starting point to sell foreign products in the Middle Kingdom without having a local company or physical presence in China (together with distribution channels)
- the only way to import specialty products, e.g. cruelty-free products could only be imported to China through CBEC for a long time
- market expansion and brand control for established and larger brands
What’s noteworthy is that except for three brands, Tmall Global and JD Worldwide offer different brands of imported olive oil products.
In the following table, we are comparing traditional direct import and CBEC platforms in terms of their olive oil portfolio.
|Traditional local: Tmall||Traditional local: JD||CBEC: Tmall Global||CBEC:JD Worldwide|
|Number of brands||185||419||19||13|
|Number of products||2,033||4,300||90||57|
|Number of shops||316||664||12||10|
In terms of olive oils, for CBEC Tmall Global is more attractive compared to JD Worldwide and for traditional local platforms it is the other way around: JD is more attractive compared to Tmall.
Olive oil brand list on direct import and CBEC platforms in China:
Olive oil brand
|Traditional local: Tmall||Traditional local: JD||CBEC: Tmall Global||CBEC:JD Worldwide|
|皇冠 (AZEITE ROYAL）||x|
|A Casalbert Since 1959||x||x|
|Alberta Iannicelli Ceraso 1898||x||x|
|California Olive Ranch||x||x|
|CASAS DE HUALDO||x|
|GENESSA easy love||x|
|Jason Better food for life||x||x||x|
|La Flor de Malaga||x|
|Land of Olive||x|
|Los Corrales De La Sierra||x|
|LONGEVITY FLO WER||x|
|O-Live & Co||x|
|SHAN RUN CAMELLIA OIL||x|
This brings us to the end of the article selling food via CBEC vs. importing food to China.
Strategic Guide on How to Import Food to China
If you are wondering, how to export food to China and start selling your food products via CBEC, here’s how:
1. Market Research
If you are new to the Chinese market and/or export to China, marketing research in China to expand your business is a great way to get started. Get an overview of your market segment, potential target audience, competitors, pricing, and much more. Besides, here are some additional tips to conduct China market intelligence.
This will help you validate your business model for the Chinese market and to determine your next steps.
2a. Food Distributor Research & Outreach
Get started quickly and easily by collaborating with Chinese distributors.
For your B2B food brand, the best way to find and connect with China food and beverage distributors is through 1688 (Alibaba), Baidu B2B, and via Chinese search engines like Baidu, Sogou, and Qihoo 360. Moreover, your country’s embassy in China can provide assistance.
Once you have identified your distributors, it is advisable to do a company background check and check their experience with your niche to assess their capabilities and trustworthiness.
If you would like assistance with this, researching suitable distributors, and getting their English contact information, a China expert like China Gravy can help.
Selling your food items or other products in China is relatively straightforward through the cross-border ecommerce (CBEC) model on Tmall Global and JD Worldwide.
Besides, social commerce platforms like Douyin, Xiaohongshu, Kuaishou, and Pinduoduo are providing more and more ways to set up CBEC shops.
How to sell your products on Tmall Global and/or JD Worldwide
- Register your company on Tmall Global and/or JD Worldwide
- Open a brand store or sell through marketplaces or distributors (e.g. import supermarket)
- Start selling your products
- Optimize your store with learnings and ads
- Consult a China expert like China Gravy for assistance
Note that JD Worldwide requires a USD bank account. For both CBEC platforms, your warehouse can be outside of China or you can use a bonded warehouse in China.
To further promote your brand consider
- PPC/banner ads on Baidu, Tmall, Taobao, and JD as well on social commerce platforms (Xiaohongshu, Douyin, etc.)
- KOL influencer marketing including live streaming
CBEC Platform Fees
|Cost||Tmall Global||JD Worldwide|
|Security deposit (to be refunded if/after the store is closed)||25,000 USD||15,000 USD|
|Annual fee||5,000 USD – 10,000 USD (depending on product category)||1,000 USD|
|Commission||0.5-5% (depending on category)||2% – 8% (based on order value)|
|Other||AliPay fee (1% of order value)|
|Agency fees for shop management and marketing||Individual agreements||Individual agreements|
Overall, Tmall Global is relatively expensive, and they may reject goods that don’t fit their strategy. Click here for more information on the different Tmall Global shop types and requirements.
2c. Own Import Business in China
Starting your own Chinese import company may be the ultimate goal once you have established a network and partners in China, and understand the rules and regulations in the Middle Kingdom better for your product group and business setup.
Once your product has enough brand awareness, and you are ready to expand your business in China, you can consider starting your own import export to China business, using traditional local marketplaces like Tmall or JD, or establish your own ecommerce shop system (website) and/or WeChat shop, which offers more control and possibilities (payment, logistics, etc.).
The basic steps for the import process once you have a Chinese company are:
- Complete the import and export registration
- Prepare Necessary Documents and Trademark Registration
- Labeling of Goods in Chinese (for CBEC not necessary)
- Food Safety Inspections and Customs Clearance
If you have a Chinese company, Tmall.com, JD.com, and Pinduoduo as well as 1688 for B2B are the most suitable ecommerce platforms to distribute your food products outside of your own online platform (website/shop, also WeChat shop).
While your partners/platforms conduct the digital marketing and product promotion on your behalf when you sell your international goods through distributors or the CBEC model in China, you have more control over this process when you import food through your own business into China.
To set up traditional & CBEC businesses, we recommend these marketing strategies:
- Set up a Chinese website
- Chinese search engine optimization
- Pay-per-click advertising (PPC) on Chinese search engines and ecommerce platforms
- Chinese Social media marketing (WeChat, Weibo, Xiaohongshu, etc.)
- KOL influencer marketing
Are you overwhelmed and don’t know how to get started? Or do you simply want to focus on other aspects of your business? The China experts at China Gravy are here to help!
Import Food to China – The Takeaway
We have now examined in detail the food market in the Middle Kingdom with case studies on olive oil, and the options of importing food to China – through China distributors, CBEC, and direct import.
The case study on olive oil brands on the largest CBEC platforms for food Tmall Global (tmall.hk) and JD Worldwide (JD.hk) revealed the pricing and marketing strategies in this niche as an example for food importers to China.
Finally, we have summarized the strategic steps to import food to China with your international brand: market research, distributor/CBEC/own import, and digital marketing.
Are you ready to start with the exciting venture of fresh food export to China? Get started with China Gravy’s FREE consultation.