Taiwan’s been making headlines in recent weeks…but for all the wrong reasons. Tensions between Taiwan and mainland China continue to grow, threatening security and spelling uncertainty for the region, and trade and investment ties with Australia. Yet against this backdrop, Taiwan houses a thriving food and beverage industry built on demand for healthy, premium and convenient products, with a plethora of opportunities available to Australian exporters willing to brave these challenges. With that said, let’s take a look at the key national and industry-wide trends driving Taiwan’s F&B industry.
An Asian Tiger Experiencing Consistent Economic Growth
As one of Asia’s ‘Four Tigers’, Taiwan has embarked on a rapid growth trajectory over the past few decades, marked by strong export growth and rapid industrialisation. And, in recent years–while the global economy was clouded by uncertainty, and in many cases, economic downturn and recession–Taiwan’s trade-driven economy remained comparatively stable. 2020 saw a 3.1% GDP growth rate, while 2021 saw growth reach 6.1%–the highest since the GFC. While export sales were a driving force behind this continued growth, they’ve started to slump. This follows weak demand from mainland China as well as the economic slowdown in the US and EU, with growth slowing to 2.4% in 2022 and an anticipated 1.9% in the coming year.
However, whilst export sales have dropped, private consumption in Taiwan continues to grow, rising by 2.9% in 2022. At US$35,510, Taiwan’s GDP per capita tops its major East Asian neighbours including South Korea and Japan, making Taiwanese consumers some of the biggest spenders in the region. The reopening of borders in 2022 is also set to provide a boost in demand from tourists, with just under 900,000 tourists visiting Taiwan in the past year. Early results for 2023 are already promising in the food and beverage sector, with January’s food and beverage sales up by more than 30% compared to January of 2022.
Potential to Further Strengthen Trade Relationships With Australia
Australia and Taiwan maintain close people-to-people, trade and investment links, with this relationship having been strengthened in recent years. And while Taiwan is ranked as one of Australia’s top 10 two-way trading partners in 2021-22, our trading relationship isn’t cemented by any trade agreements as our government doesn’t recognise Taiwan as an independent state. Australian agricultural products are popular in the region, including meat and seafood, horticulture, dairy, grains and wine.
However, as China’s trade sanctions on Australia continue, this is limiting the supply of Australian products to Taiwan. Yet Taiwan is committed to potentially signing a trade deal with Australia, which would support Australian exporters by breaking down barriers to trade. Taiwan has also applied to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which, if successful, would open up further opportunities for trade with Australia.
Consumer Demographics and Trends Mirror Those in Australia
Taiwan’s consumer market has more in common with Australia’s than one might expect! At just under 24 million, the population is slightly smaller than Australia’s 26.3 million whilst Taiwan’s median age of 41.3 is just slightly higher than Australia’s by a mere three years. The population is also ageing rapidly, with 22.5% of the population aged 65 or over, driving demand for functional foods and beverages with specified health benefits. Like Australia, Taiwan is a highly developed economy, and this is reflected in consumer purchasing patterns. Consumers align themselves with global trends, are tech-savvy, and look for quality and trusted brands. This means that export potential for Australian F&B manufacturers is strong, with e-commerce channels and social media marketing being key to export success alongside a well-defined brand image.
A Look At Pre-Pandemic Trends in Taiwan’s Food & Beverage Industry
As we’ve established, Taiwan houses a wealthy and robust consumer market. This translates into high demand for premium and imported F&B brands, as well as functional products. While Taiwan does maintain strong production of essentials such as rice, tea, and various fruits and vegetables, limited agricultural land means the region remains dependent on food imports for around 70% of its food supply.
While health trends were certainly accelerated by the pandemic, pre-pandemic patterns indicate wellness was already a pervasive topic. For years now, Taiwanese consumers have been looking to adopt more nutritional diets, manifesting in areas such as reduced sugar and high protein consumption. Vegetarianism has also been a staple part of the local diet, given the majority of the population identifies as Buddhist and Taoist, both of which promote vegetarian diets. And as the alternative meat and dairy markets have grown, this has spurred high demand for such products.
Pandemic Accelerating Global Cuisine and Wellness Trends
Reflective of many other Asian countries in the past few decades, Western influences in all areas of Taiwanese life are growing. In the food and beverage industry specifically, this manifests in the form of fusion cuisines and the integration of Chinese and Western cultures. And like many other economies around the world, travelling through cuisine became a headline trend over the past few years, as Taiwanese consumers sought to compensate for their inability to travel by buying international sweets and snacks like Korean and Japanese delicacies, to consume at home.
Health and wellness trends, exacerbated by consumer willingness to defend themselves against the pandemic, saw health supplements and functional foods and beverages enter the spotlight. In fact, Australian products in the health and wellness space are proving particularly popular in Taiwan due to our reputation for safe, quality products. Consumer focus on buzzwords including ‘natural’, ‘organic’ and ‘fresh’ is also becoming a major trend, and isn’t set to slow down anytime soon as consumers continue to prioritise their own health as well as that of their families. F&B brands are also seeing health trends specific to their product range emerge, including such as low or no-caffeine drinks in the beverage space.
The Future of Taiwan’s Food & Beverage Industry
Despite the slowdown in Taiwan’s economy and growing tensions with China, the outlook for the food and beverage industry is largely positive. In fact, Taiwan maintains the fifth highest per capita spending on F&B products in Asia. Driven by a growing population, rising disposable incomes and the widespread development of foodservice venues and food delivery services, consumer spending across F&B categories isn’t set to slow down. Premiumisation and the search for higher-quality foods will continue, as will the demand for healthy foods. Plus, as COVID-19 measures are stripped back and a return to normality occurs, consumers are set to spend less time cooking at home, supporting demand for quick and convenient meals and ingredients in retail, as well as food service offerings.
But, where are the opportunities for exporters specifically? The strong growth rates of canned foods, baked goods, pastas, noodles, prepared meals and soups indicate that the demand for convenience is on the rise. Wine is also set to record strong growth over the next five years and as is dairy food–both being categories where Australian products tend to stand out on supermarket shelves. We can also see a growing interest in meat substitutes as well as syrups and spreads, with both categories projected to experience strong annual growth in years to come.
Key Challenges to Monitor in Coming Years
While the market opportunity for Australian F&B exporters in Taiwan is huge, there are a number of challenges to remain mindful of. For one, growing tensions with mainland China cannot be ignored. As the situation escalates, this will become a growing source of political and economic uncertainty with the ability to impact supply chains, consumer demand and overall economic and social freedom into the future. In addition, while inflationary pressures are certainly not unique to Taiwan during what is a tumultuous time globally, inflation will promote price consciousness and force some consumers to shift to essentials or lower-priced alternatives in the coming months.
That completes our exploration of the Taiwanese market. As we’ve seen, Taiwan’s economy–with continuous growth, high disposable incomes and the resurgence of tourism–sets a solid foundation for a thriving food and beverage industry. Australia’s trade links with the island region are strong, with the potential to grow further as Taiwan seeks to develop bilateral and multilateral deals. From a consumer trend standpoint, demand for global brands, premium products, and functional and health foods, alongside more natural and organic products paints a strong opportunity for Australians exporters in particular. Yet exporters are advised to exercise caution as Taiwan’s political climate becomes increasingly uncertain, and global inflationary pressures are felt by consumers.
We hope you’ve found these insights on the Taiwanese market helpful. As always, if you’ve got any questions or want to discuss export opportunities for your company, feel free to drop us a line at Export Connect – we’d love to hear from you.