Demand scenarios conducted by U.S. Dairy Export Council officials suggest China’s appetite for imported UHT milk could more than quadruple by 2020 — growing from 150,000 tons in 2013 to at least 600,000 tons.
Dairy processors have taken notice. In fact, there are seven major new plant projects in the works across the globe (specifically, in Australia, Germany, Ireland and New Zealand), all focused on manufacturing UHT milk specifically for export. But these plants’ combined output is still inefficient to meet projected demand, USDEC says.
“U.S. suppliers have an opportunity to play a bigger role in China’s booming UHT milk market,” says Ross Christieson, senior vice president of market research and analysis, USDEC. “To do so, they need to concentrate on 1) developing the right products and packaging to meet Chinese needs, which are very different from U.S. needs; 2) getting more price competitive (or accepting a smaller, niche share of the market; and 3) establishing price models that use longer pricing periods more akin to those offered by competitors.”
Specifically, the Chinese market demands 1-liter cartons with no additives (not even vitamins), USDEC officials say. Pricing, while more challenging to address, is less of a concern than it has been in the past due to quality scares in the Chinese market, USDEC notes.
“Due in part to past food safety scares, Chinese consumers have shown they are willing to pay for imported UHT milk up to two to three times the price of local labels,” Christieson notes. “That being said, Chinese consumers are cost conscious. Competitive pricing is a key factor in the grocery retail section, putting U.S. products at a disadvantage next to brands from Europe and Oceania.”
Still, it’s a puzzle worth solving when you consider one fact: Roughly 300 million people will move to Chinese cities over the next 17 years (a population nearly the size of the entire United States). This urbanization, encouraged by government programs, will increase the country’s dairy consumption.
The United States currently owns less than 4 percent of the Chinese UHT milk import market.