Food and beverage to Hong Kong

Trends and opportunities

The market

With a wealthy population of more than 7.4 million and a significant tourism industry (over 58.4 million visitors in 2017) Hong Kong is a substantial and high-value market for all kinds of food products (Source: the Census and Statistics Department, Population and Tourism Commission, Tourism Performance 2017, 16 May 2018). Hong Kong is also a stylish ‘shop window’ that attracts 45 million mainland Chinese tourists every year.

Hong Kong relies heavily on imports into the market, with 95% of food and beverage (F&B) products imported (Source: USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, Retail Food Sector Annual 2017 (PDF), June 2018). The domestic agricultural, aquaculture and food processing capacities are limited, as they are geared as complements rather than competitors for major supplying countries. Hong Kong is also a trading hub for re-exports into mainland China, Macau and other neighbouring Asian markets.

While the demand for various kinds of convenient food items is increasing, consumers are becoming more conscious about nutritional values, traceability and food safety. The result is an increasing trend towards naturally healthy, functional, quality, sustainable and organic food choices, reflected in the introduction of more of these products into retail channels.

Hong Kong’s food retailing and catering markets have evolved in recent years resulting from westernisation and increasing household income amongst the local population. Supermarkets, fast food stores and themed restaurants have become an integral part of shopping and dining out habits.

Major supermarket chains are transforming to one-stop ‘superstores’ to enhance business growth through new ‘wet market’ corners (counters selling chilled and live seafood, meat and poultry products), bakery, take-away food services, specialty selections and linked lifestyle shopping facilities such as pharmacies, wine cellars, banking facilities, book stores and photo processing counters.

Leading food and beverage retailers have expanded their upscale retail offerings. Three key players are:

  • 3hreesixty, MarketPlace by Jason’s, Oliver’s Delicatessen - Dairy Farm Group
  • Great Food Hall, TASTE, FUSION, CKC18 - A.S. Watson Group
  • CitySuper

Opportunities

The key trend across all sectors relates to food safety and quality, with recent food scandals across the region increasing the focus on identifying quality, safe and reliable foods. This is a major opportunity for all F&B sectors with Australian produce recognised as ‘clean and green’ and reliable. Specific opportunities for organic products are growing as consumers increasingly perceive organic to be a guarantee of quality and safety.

Meat

Australia is perceived as one of the top supplying countries for beef, lamb, pork and poultry that is backed by stable supply, high quality standards and disease-free status. A$85 million (7,691 tonnes swt) of chilled and frozen Australian beef and A$27.7 million (5,932 tonnes swt) of chilled and frozen Australian lamb were exported to Hong Kong in 2017 (Source: Meat and Live Stock Australia – Hong Kong Market Snapshot (PDF), January 2018).

Australia plays a key role in supplying premium chilled beef and lamb to the high-end retail and food service sectors in Hong Kong. The influx of mainland Chinese tourists and steady rise in local discretionary income continue to support a robust growth of premium meat exports in Hong Kong. Consumers often prefer Australian produce when it comes to food safety, traceability, trust and quality. Trade buyers are interested to expand the meat product range in Hong Kong to include antibiotic-free, hormone-free, dry age free-range and organic meat products. However, as plant-based products are becoming more available in Hong Kong, more consumers may opt for a meat-free diet in the long run.

Dairy

New Zealand, Australia, France and The Netherlands are the key supplying countries for dairy products in the Hong Kong market. Australia was the number two supplier for cheese and butter to Hong Kong in 2017 (Source: Census and Statistics Department, Hong Kong SAR, Hong Kong Merchandise Trade Statistics – Imports (PDF), pg. 10-11, December 2017).

With growing westernisation, Hong Kong consumers are looking for more sophisticated cheese offerings. Non-cheddar varieties like Mozzarella and Parmesan are gaining shelf space in local retailers. Local consumers are also increasingly health-conscious and supported the expansion of nutritious snacks in the market. On-the-go cheese snacks and single-serving yoghurt drinks have gained market presence as consumers recognise their calcium-rich and good-for-digestion benefits.

Fruit and vegetables

Hong Kong’s per capita consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables is thought to be amongst the highest in the world. There is year-round supply of imported oranges, apples and grapes to the Hong Kong market. Other popular items include pears, mandarins, bananas, mangoes, papayas, melons, plums, nectarines and cherries. Local fresh vegetable production is less than 5%, with the majority of the supply coming from Mainland China, the United States and Australia. (Source: Census and Statistics Department, Hong Kong SAR, Hong Kong Merchandise Trade Statistics – Imports (PDF), pg. 23-34, December 2017).

Australian fruit and vegetables enjoy a good reputation among local consumers for their consistent quality and food safety standards. Australia’s fresh fruit and vegetable export to this market were valued at A$129 million and A$15.7 million respectively in 2016/2017 (Source: Australian Horticultural Exporters Association, Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Export/ Import Statistics 2016/17 (PDF), pg. 10 & 28, 10 September 2018). Major fruits and vegetable exported to Hong Kong include oranges, table grapes, mandarins, carrots, potatoes, onions, lettuce, asparagus and broccolis.

Hong Kong consumers are increasingly interested in value-added fruit and vegetables such as pre-packaged salad mix, frozen sliced vegetables, cooked and vacuum packed vegetables. Consumers also have a preference for pesticide-free, organic, hydroponic produce and new varieties. Premium fruit products are presented as gifts during festival celebrations such as Lunar New Year and Mid-Autumn Festival. However, the transparent import regime and efficient logistic infrastructure in Hong Kong contribute to the competitive nature of the fresh produce trade in this market.

Austrade and Hort Market Insight Report

Opportunities also exist for exporters to supply Australian fresh fruit produce during unique cultural festivals, particularly those that feature fruits as gifts or offerings. Further insight into the specific opportunity in Hong Kong can be found in the following report

Seafood

Hong Kong imports a variety of seafood products from around the world and seafood serves as a major ingredient in local cuisine. Due to the recent food safety incidents (e.g. oil fish, melamine, mislabeling) and Hong Kong SAR Government’s plans to update the Food Adulteration (Metallic Contamination) Regulations, the industry is now shifting toward more regulated and reliable seafood sources.

There is a rising demand for sustainable seafood in Hong Kong, mostly led by 5-star hotels, high-end restaurants and upscale retailers. A number of Australian seafood species are recommended by WWF’s Sustainable Seafood Guide, providing positive branding and new opportunities for Australian suppliers in Hong Kong.

Australia enjoys positive perceptions of the supply of fresh, clean and high quality seafood products. Crustaceans and fish are the top 5 and 10 Australian F&B exports to Hong Kong respectively in 2017 (Source: Country and commodity pivot table 2006 to 2017, DFAT Trade Statistics, 10 September 2018). Major Australian seafood items exported to Hong Kong include abalone, rock lobsters, scallops, prawns, coral trout, oysters, mussels and king crabs.

Wine / Alcoholic beverage

Australian wines have built a strong presence in Hong Kong market with industry recognitions for their consistent quality and regional identities. In 2017, over 17% of Hong Kong’s imported wines came from Australia, making Australia the second largest wine exporter after France (Source: Census and Statistics Department, Hong Kong SAR, Hong Kong Merchandise Trade Statistics – Imports (PDF), pg. 47, December 2017).

With changing lifestyles and more frequent international travels, local consumers are increasingly wine savvy and eager to learn about new trends in alcoholic beverages. Bio-dynamic, natural, vegan-friendly, organic and sustainable wines are gaining attention in Hong Kong. Trade buyers have also expressed interest in craft spirits, micro-brews and specialty products to differentiate from the mainstream market. Local events such as the Hong Kong Wine & Dine Festival, Beertopia and Watson’s Wine Week serve as good opportunities to interact with local consumers.

Hong Kong serves as a major alcoholic beverage trading hub for re-exports to other Asian markets such as Mainland China, Macau, Taiwan, Vietnam and Japan. About 37% of the imported wines were re-exported in 2017 (Source: Hong Kong Trade Development Council, Wine Industry in Hong Kong, 6 September 2018). Hong Kong is also the host city for regional trade shows including the Vinexpo Hong Kong and Hong Kong International Wine and Spirits Fair.

Organic products

Consumers in Hong Kong are becoming more skeptical of the adverse effects of chemical fertilizers, preservatives and pesticide residues in food. Local government, media and not-for-profit organisations have encouraged consumers to opt for more environmentally-friendly F&B products and packaging. These have all contributed to a stable growth of the organic and sustainable F&B segment in Hong Kong.

There is a surge of organic retail stores specialising in the natural and organic retail segment, examples include Just GreenOrganic PlusGreen Dot Dot and Green Common. Leading supermarkets have also assigned dedicated shelf space for organic F&B products. Local food service operators and restaurants are now more actively demanding organic produce and ingredients. Hong Kong has not imposed any legislation regarding organic certification and labelling, favoring the importation of organic products into Hong Kong. Nonetheless, trade buyers have a preference for organic-certified over self-proclaimed organic products.

There are currently 130 organic-certified farms, aquafarms and food processing plants operating in Hong Kong (Source: Hong Kong Organic Resource Centre, September 2018). However, local suppliers are hampered by unstable supply, limited varieties and pollution. Hong Kong has the desire and capacity to pay for high-quality imported organic food, making Australia a natural source of supply.

Other products

Australia has good market share in packaged rice, dried fruit, edible oils and the healthy and functional food and drink sector.

Competitive environment

Being one of the freest markets in the world, Hong Kong has minimal trade barriers for imports. The market is extremely competitive, which means quality products are often competing on price. As of 2016, Australia was the fifth largest food supplying country to Hong Kong after China, France, the United States and Japan.

The image of Australia’s ‘clean and green’ production environment and high food-safety standards help the promotion of Australian food exports into Hong Kong. Organic products are helping to sustain and diversify the market position of Australian food products. Sustainability in seafood is rising as an issue of concern in the market.

Tariffs, regulations and customs

Hong Kong is a free trade port, with the exception of spirits (over 30% alcoholic content on volume basis), there are no duties or tariffs imposed on imports of food and beverages. However, import of food and beverages into Hong Kong is subject to the control of various local food laws and regulations pertaining to:

  • food colouring
  • dried milk
  • sweeteners in food
  • food adulteration (metallic contamination)
  • food and drugs (composition and labelling)
  • food business
  • frozen confections
  • harmful substances in food
  • imported game, meat, poultry and eggs
  • milk
  • mineral oil
  • preservatives
  • slaughterhouses
  • pesticide residues

For more details on Hong Kong’s regulations and laws, please visit Tariffs and regulations.

Marketing your products and services

Market entry

For high-volume food products (e.g. fresh produce, meats and dairy), an effective marketing strategy can improve the competitiveness of Australian exports to Hong Kong through better:

  • bargaining power
  • pricing
  • quantity and quality consistency
  • credit management
  • export marketing funding
  • brand building

For gourmet food products, dedicated partner research in selected overseas markets is the key to success. Generally speaking, you should promote your export business with a marketing package or a concept where you can work together with the importer to build the business and not just focus on the product itself.

Companies should consider:

Selecting a committed agent and work hard on building the relationship for the long term.

  • Using a qualified export packer (if your volumes are too small to sell direct to an overseas importer) or team up with a producers’ association for collective export marketing and logistics.
  • Visiting the market before seeking to export.
  • Working closely with buyers in the market, as mutual trust is important and partnering via a Hong Kong company may also help you learn how to engage in direct or indirect trade with Mainland China.
  • Building branding for your products over time including use of product promoters
  • Developing innovative products and packaging
  • Setting up your own representative office, ensuring you can own the customer network (rather than depending on the ‘goodwill’ of your agent). Once your presence in the market is well-established, you could take on additional export business from others.

Distribution channels

Most imports of food and beverages are channeled through import agents who normally distribute direct to retailers and catering end users.

Major supermarket chains buy many products directly from selected overseas suppliers. The two largest supermarket chains, PARKnSHOP and Wellcome, source products by direct import and through local agents. However for selected large volume product lines, both large chains generally try to by-pass agents wherever possible. These two major supermarket chains in Hong Kong have their own large warehousing facilities for the handling of perishable goods, re-packaging and distribution.

Smaller supermarket groups and local convenience stores which do not have their own warehousing facilities, generally source selected overseas products via importers. As the trade continues to expand it is expected that some of these organisations will manage to develop their own facilities and purchase some of their requirements direct from overseas suppliers.

The three upscale food retailers – Great Food Hall, CitySuper and Oliver’s the Delicatessen – have appointed consolidators in specific countries including Australia to facilitate product sourcing and broaden the product range available to their customers. These are typically smaller volume, niche products. Some retailers may also look for exclusivity for selling the products in Hong Kong market.

Due to small volumes and frequent and consolidated orders, most local hotels, restaurants and many fast food operators normally cannot afford to handle direct importation from a large number of individual suppliers overseas. Import agents generally undertake the distribution of food and beverages to trade buyers in this market sector directly, with only a small quantity being handled by provision wholesalers.

Leading supermarket chains including PARKnSHOP/Great Food Hall, Wellcome and CitySuper have developed their respective online stores and mobile applications, offering efficient home delivery of fresh, frozen and ambient F&B products by their in-house logistic teams. Retailers use online retailing platforms to further engage with their customers, such as offering customised product information, recipes and discounts. A number of e-commerce platforms are also active in F&B online retailing – HKTV MallZtoreHonestbeeButchers Club, Ocean Three and Pacific Gourmet. These online retailers usually source products via local wholesalers and distributors. Food and drink internet retailing increases 17 per cent in current value in 2017 as sales reaches HKD$1.1 billion. (Source: Euromonitor report, Food and Drink Internet Retailing in Hong Kong, China, Country Report, Jan 2018).

Distribution to wet markets, hawkers, groceries and small corner stores is handled by a number of intermediary provision wholesalers.

Please see Austrade's guide to Food retail stores in Hong Kong and Macau (PDF, 603KB) for further information.

Beyond Hong Kong - Macau

As the leading gaming centre in Asia, Macau has one of the highest per capita GDP levels in the world, with a population of more than 0.65 ( Source: Macau Statistics and Census Service, Population Estimate 2017, March 2018) . Tourism is Macau’s principal industry and the city attracted over 32.6 million visitors in 2017 (Source: Statistics and Census Service, Macau SAR – Visitor Arrivals Statistics, September 2018) . Over 70% of visitors came from Mainland China and Hong Kong, whereas visitors from nearby Asian regions, the United States and Australia have also increased steadily, supporting a healthy growth of the food and beverage sector in Macau.

Macau imports most of its food and beverage products due to the city’s minimal local agricultural production and processing capability. In 2017, Macao imported over A$2.06 billion worth of F&B products from around the world (Source: Statistics and Census Service, Government of Macau SAR – External Merchandise Trade Statistics. August 2018). With the lack of deep sea ports, there is very limited direct shipping service to Macau. F&B products are often repacked and trans-shipped via Hong Kong. Hong Kong importers and wholesalers work closely with Macanese trade buyers to meet their sourcing requirements. Australian suppliers may consider to strategise their Macau market entry strategies with their existing Hong Kong importers.

The occupancy rate for Macau’s 4 & 5-Star hotels has topped 93% in January 2018 (Source: Macao Government Tourism Office – Hotel Occupancy Rate (PDF), February 2018). Constructions of new casinos, amusement parks, hotels and resorts are also underway. Most of the premium imported F&B products are distributed through food service outlets in the casino complexes and hotels in Macau. These new infrastructures will provide attractive new opportunities to Australian F&B suppliers.

Trade events

It is recommended that Australian exporters attend or participate in trade shows as another way of marketing your products. HOFEX, Asia Fruit Logistica and Seafood Expo Asia are the most important food shows in the region.

Links and industry contacts

Government, business and trade resources

Bilingual Laws Information System
Centre for Food Safety
Hong Kong Customs & Excise Department
Hong Kong Food and Environmental Hygiene Department
Hong Kong Trade Development Council
Invest Hong Kong
The Australian Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong (Austcham)
The Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources

Food and beverage

Asia Fruit Logistica
CitySuper
Great Food Hall
HKTV Mall
HOFEX
Kowloon Fruit & Vegetable Merchants Association Ltd
Oliver’s The Delicatessen
PARKnSHOP
Seafood Expo Asia
Vegetable Marketing Organization
Wellcome
Ztore

Media

Asian Hotel & Catering Times
Drinks Business Hong Kong
Foodie Hong Kong
Hong Kong Tatler
Hotel Asia Pacific
South China Morning Post

Please note: This list of websites and resources is not definitive. Inclusion in this list does not imply endorsement by Austrade. The information provided is a guide only. The content is for information and carries no warranty; as such, the addressee must exercise their own discretion in its use. Australia’s anti-bribery laws apply overseas and Austrade will not provide business related services to any party who breaches the law and will report credible evidence of any breach. For further information, please see foreign bribery information and awareness pack.

Contact details

The Australian Trade and Investment Commission – Austrade – contributes to Australia's economic prosperity by helping Australian businesses, education institutions, tourism operators, governments and citizens as they:

  • develop international markets
  • win productive foreign direct investment
  • promote international education
  • strengthen Australia's tourism industry
  • seek consular and passport services.

Working in partnership with Australian state and territory governments, Austrade provides information and advice that can help Australian companies reduce the time, cost and risk of exporting. We also administer the Export Market Development Grant Scheme and offer a range of services to Australian exporters in growth and emerging markets.