How did Covid-19 impacted Chinese beef imports
With COVID-19 lockdowns coinciding with one of China’s peak meat consumption seasons, Chinese Lunar New Year, foodservice and large meal gatherings were significantly curtailed. While some foodservice operators pivoted to home delivery to stay afloat, only some of the decline in foodservice was offset by increases in meat sales via retail channels, with consumers confined to home for 6-8 weeks.
With a high proportion of red meat consumed in China done so outside the home, COVID-19 has had a bigger short-term impact on red meat demand than for pork, poultry or fish. Estimates suggest that around 60% of China’s total beef consumption and 80% of sheepmeat consumption occurs in foodservice channels.
On the positive side, China’s foodservice sector is recovering, with no physical distancing or special hygiene measures required in restaurants in big cities now.
While beef import volumes in 2020 have been more volatile due to a combination of Lunar New Year and COVID-19, the combined volume for the year to April is up 54% on the same period in 2019.
All top five beef supplier countries have been exporting significantly greater volumes of product to China. In the 12 months to April 2020, year-on-year volume increases have been: Argentina +85%, Australia +66%, Brazil +60%, New Zealand +55% and Uruguay +11%. Both Argentina and Brazil have been facilitated in supplying larger volumes by significant increases in approved plant listings.
China has moved to diversify its beef supply in recent years, although approved plant numbers and volumes from these new suppliers remain relatively small at current. Outside of the top five suppliers (listed in the chart below) there are some 23 countries now supplying around 5%, which is up 123% on the previous year.
Despite economic impacts from COVID-19 on China’s economy, the large base of affluent consumers is forecast to continue growing, with the number of households earning annual disposable incomes of USD35,000 forecast to double from 21.3 million in 2020 to 41 million by 2024, reports Meat & Livestock Australia.