Food becomes a hot issue in China

Updated: 2010-12-27 10:04

(China Daily)

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Food becomes a hot issue in China

Customers wait to check out at a Wal-Mart Stores Inc outlet in Beijing. [Photo / Bloomberg]  

BEIJING - Although just 200 meters away from the 1,000-square-meter Carrefour supermarket in Beijing's West Dawang Street, the small department store Lohao City is busily selling imported and locally grown organic staple foods.

"People who live nearby like our products because they are more nutritious and healthy than the big supermarket's," salesman Chen Xiao claimed. "Our millet rice noodle contains more vitamin B and D and is very popular, as are our purple potatoes, which have a high content of selenium, thought to be beneficial to the immune system."

As the Chinese become richer, people have begun to pay more attention to the quality and nutritional value of food. Restaurants in Beijing are selling autumn and winter specialty dishes such as bamboo fungus and other edible wild plants which contain a variety of microelements and amino acids.

However, the lack of a national standard for food additive use has caused plenty of debate. Popular trans-fatty acids and ferriferous soybean sauce are said by some experts to be possibly damaging to the heart.

During a Nutrition Improvement and Administrative Regulation conference held in late November, the Ministry of Health said China will unveil a new policy relating to the nation's future nutrition plans - a blueprint of the nation's nutrition standards for the next five years - as part of the central government's 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015).

According to Yang Xiaoguang, the director of the newly-founded working committee, which is preparing the policy, the food additives and ways to test for them will be based on a clear standard soon.

According to the ministry's previous documents, the government's nutrition guidance work includes providing food evaluations, giving dietary suggestions and developing guidelines for labeling food additives.

"The new policy will benefit companies that make additives and boost the market for dieticians," said Tang Qingshun, chairman of the Beijing Dining Industry Association.

China lags far behind Japan, where there is a dietician for every 300 members of the population, but things are changing.

Data from the Chinese Nutrition Society shows there are less than 4,000 dieticians working in the nutrition departments of hospitals around the country. However, one dietician training company, of the many in Beijing, said more than 500 of its students graduate every year.

"Only a small part of our graduates work for the hospitals and State-owned companies such as COFCO Group's research department. More of them are providing personal services to families and rich individuals," said Deng Hongmei, who is in charge of the recruitment work of Peking University Health Science Center's dietician training program. "The demand for our students is very strong, especially for one-on-one consultation work and giving lectures on nutrition to food companies," she added.

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Beijing Evening Post reported the hiring of dieticians is becoming more popular in China. However, people pay for a dietician only after hiring a personal physician and personal bodybuilding coach.

Along with personal fashion helpers, personal dieticians have been acknowledged as a new profession by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security on its website.

"Like all professions, dieticians have different abilities. The average pay for a high-level dietician working for restaurants in Beijing is about 5,000 yuan ($750) to 6,000 yuan a month," Deng said. Experienced family nutrition consultants are currently being paid around 3,000 to 4,000 yuan to give a full dietary plan and recommended eating habits. The cheapest price for hiring a junior personal dietician is about 1,000 yuan a month.

"Haidian district of Beijing needs at least 20,000 dieticians," Deng said.

"The market is far below saturation point, considering every neighborhood may need a dietician in the future," she said.

As early as 2005, the Ministry of Health formulated a national nutrition draft resolution called the Nutrition Guideline of the People's Republic of China, which stipulated that key hospitals, companies and schools with more than 100 people must have dieticians.

"We see the coming Five-Year Plan as a bullish sign for all nutrition industry companies," said Yao Jie, a food industry analyst from Everbright Securities.

China's nutriment seller Guangdong By-Health Biotechnology Co Ltd broke the record of price-per-share and price/earnings ratio during its initial public offering on the Growth Enterprise Board earlier this month. It said its earning expectations for 2010 were up 88 percent year-on-year, with nutrition being a hot issue for the market now.

According to data from the China Healthcare Association, China's nutriment market size will be valued at more than 16 billion yuan, up 30 percent in the next two years.



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