In Europe, attention to organic products and the environment is increasingly strong and several companies have decided to produce organically and sustainably as a civil and professional choice. On the contrary, it is often asked whether organic is a determining factor or not in a country like China.

In the past few weeks, we have witnessed a significant decrease in emissions from China. The reason was the closure of the factories in an attempt to control the spread of COVID-19.

We can easily predict that this improvement in pollution levels is temporary, but what is not temporary is the government’s commitment to ensuring more sustainable development, and above all the attention of consumers towards natural and organic products.

China sadly occupy the first position in the list of the most polluted countries in the world, but it is also the world leader in the production of energy from renewable sources.

If we give a look at the history of the country, we will know that China has experienced an impressive period of economic growth for 40 years and is now the world’s second-largest economy by nominal GDP and the largest economy by purchasing power parity.

The country’s economic performance also had a huge social impact. The government has relieved over 700 million people from extreme poverty and implemented the compulsory education system. In addition, life expectancy at birth has increased significantly and the under-five mortality rate has fallen dramatically.

This economic and social growth took place at a high cost: about a fifth of the Chinese territory is polluted and about 40% of its land surface is degraded. The excessive use of water resources has depleted aquifers.

The Chinese government has indicated that pollution control and environmental protection constitute one of the three difficult battles for China. The 13th five-year plan (2016-2020) provides for attention to various environmental parameters, from energy consumption to carbon emissions, from air quality to forest cover. China has taken a number of measures to encourage the development of clean energy, including the construction of large wind and solar parks, with the aim of ensuring that non-fossil energy meets 20% of its energy needs by 2030.

Despite the significant progress made by China, it will take a long time, huge investments and political commitment to move from frenetic economic growth to sustainable and qualitative development.

How all these factors influence consumer purchase decisions?

With such high pollution, the population – especially in the first and second-tier cities – has developed greater attention to the consumption of organic products, imported and with guaranteed origin. Something that until a few years ago seemed impossible happened: more and more Chinese consumers want organic products.
According to Statista, in 2019 41% of the Chinese population said they buy organic products often, while only 4% said they did not know what they were.

Among the products that are most sought after we have:

  • Food
  • Cosmetics
  • Supplements
  • Clothing

What are the dynamics behind this green trend?

The increase in income and the expansion of the middle-class is certainly among the first determining factors in the desire to buy organic products. This is because organic and export products are more expensive than other products normally available on the market.
In other words, people with the greatest spending power are those who have the greatest chance of buying organic products.

Another factor that has greatly influenced the decision of Chinese consumers to buy organic products are the great scandals, which have mainly characterized the food sector. Among the most – sadly – famous, we remember the one involving contaminated baby milk powder, which led to the death of thousands of children.
So, food safety and the guarantee on the originality of the product are another factor that influences the choice of Chinese consumers and pushes them to buy organic products.

Chinese culture also pays great attention to the relationship between food and health. For this reason, in recent years we have witnessed the opening of several “organic” or “natural” restaurants where it is possible to buy healthy and organic food.

Finally, especially among young people, there is a desire for self-affirmation with respect to the community, congruent with the image of the good citizen respectful of the environment. The social factor is a strong influence in China and the image that others have of you is held in high regard by the population. Giving the image of a person respectful of the environment and animal rights is therefore among other social factors that influence the choices of Chinese consumers. The purchase of organic products and the sharing of such purchases on social media such as WeChat is increasingly popular.

Many of you will think it’s a paradox, in fact very (too) often we talk about scandals related to the mistreatment of animals – such as the Yulin dog meat festival. But in big cities, pets are also considered as such in China, and you might be surprised to find that “coffee” exists in Shanghai where dogs can find refreshments and celebrate their birthday.

As always, China presents itself as the country of excess, but this must not discourage producers from focusing on organic products, not only as a conscious choice of respect and sustainability of the environment but also as added value for consumers.

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