Market and Trade Data
Chengdu: An Up-and-Coming Market in China’s Heartland 2006
Chengdu is the jumping off point for Sichuan’s
many scenic parks. Pictured here is Jiuzhaigou.
Photos and map courtesy of USDA/FAS
Agricultural Trade Office, Shanghai, China
FAS Report CH6801
By Bryan Stewart and Ralph Bean
Gateway to West China Located deep in China’s interior, Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan province and one of
the most affluent cities in Western China. It has been
known as the City of Hibiscus for 1,000 years, ever
since its tenth-century ruler, Chang Meng, ordered
hibiscus planted on the city walls. The city is an urban
island of 10.5 million residents in a largely
Sichuan province lies astride the Yangtze River, forming
a giant bowl valley in the center of China, with the
Himalayas to the west and the Three Gorges to the east.
Sichuan is an important producer of rice and rapeseed,
but is known primarily as China’s largest pork producer.
It is also a major tourist destination, with many of
China’s most famous natural parks, including the
world-renowned Woolong Panda Preserve and Jiuzhaigou
Natural Park. In recent years, Chengdu has become a major
rail hub for West and Southwest China. New highways and
an expanded airport have further reinforced the city’s
position as the primary transportation hub for the
A Booming Retail Market
Chengdu’s retail food sector has grown quickly, and is
now home to multiple international retailers, including
Carrefour, Ito Yokado and Metro. Store managers report
heavy foot traffic in their stores, and ATO Shanghai
collaborations with both Ito Yokado and Chengdu have
proven very successful. Chengdu also hosts China’s
largest domestic food show, Tangjiuhui (the Spirits and
Candy Festival), every spring. Tangjiuhui is a
gargantuan affair that draws food manufacturers from
every corner of China, and attracts up to 300,000
Chengdu is the center of the region known for
China’s famous spicy Sichuan cuisine.
Chengdu is the center of the region known for China’s
famous spicy Sichuan cuisine, recognized worldwide as
one of the four major styles of Chinese cooking (the
others being Hunan, Cantonese, and Yangzhou). Reflecting
both local residents’ obsession with food and Chengdu’s
role as a major tourism center, the restaurant industry
is well developed, but lacks knowledge about imported
products and cooking methods. ATO Shanghai bas worked
with the Chengdu Cuisine Association, which hopes to
popularize Sichuan-style food across the world, and sees
the incorporation of imported ingredients into Sichuan
cuisine as an effective way to improve quality and
standardize the preparation of Sichuan food. Chengdu is
in the process of setting up a food ingredient
development zone for food processing firms, many of
which are owned by national hotels and restaurants.
As a market for imported products, Chengdu is small
relative to its population, and incomes are low
relative to coastal cities. Propensity to spend,
however, is quite high, and Chengdu punches well above
its weight as a consumer center. Imported foods are
still relatively rare, so early arrivals in this market
are likely to have a disproportionate impact on local
residents’ ideas about foreign foods. In short, now is
an excellent time to make an entry into this large,
undeveloped market. Sichuanese are happy to adapt and
incorporate new products into their own cuisine.
The primary obstacle to food imports in Chengdu, and
most other interior markets, is distribution. During a
recent activity, ATO Shanghai discovered that imported
meat and seafood in Chengdu was typically imported into
Shanghai or Guangzhou, then resold into neighboring
markets, changing ownership as many as four or five
times before reaching Chengdu. As a result, prices are
higher, quality is lower and shelf-life is shorter by
the time products reach consumers. Only the largest
chain restaurants buy directly from Shanghai or
Guangzhou. Although roads and rail within Sichuan are
excellent, connections to coastal provinces face a
bottleneck. The government has invested heavily to
expand the airport, which is increasing the number of
daily flights, including cargo, throughout China.
Transportation issues, however, are less of an issue
than China’s general lack of nationwide distribution
U.S. food products are gradually being introduced to
consumers in the region. ATO has conducted a number of
events in Chengdu, as well as in neighboring Chongqing
(an important stepping stone on the way to Chengdu).
These include a chef seminar series, paired with a
retail distribution activity at Ito Yokado, the Summer
Fruit Festival at Carrefour in July, and the U.S. Food
Festival at Carrefour in September, as well as
recruiting teams of U.S. companies to participate in the
Massive crowds bear testament to the size and
popularity of the Tangjiuhui food trade show,
hosted every spring in Chengdu.
Best Product Prospects
U.S. food products with the best market potential in
Chengdu include the following:
fruits and nuts: Already present in the market, nuts
sell best in-shell. Retail sales are particularly
strong. The main competition appears to be Iranian
pistachios and Xingjiang (West China) sweet almonds and
raisins. Hawaiian macadamias are present, albeit on an
Boneless pork butt: U.S. boneless pork butt is
proving quite popular among restaurants and their
customers, even in China’s pork production heartland. As
with all time and temperature sensitive products,
however, distribution is a major obstacle.
grapes: Both U.S. red and black table grapes
are popular in Chengdu. Distribution and logistics,
however, both pose challenges.
Shellfish: Scallops and other shellfish are popular
in this seafood-starved inland province. Here too,
distribution is an obstacle, but equally important with
these unfamiliar products is the need to provide
education in proper cooking methods.
Poultry: The most popular items are wingtips
and feet. U.S. frozen chicken wings sometimes appear on
Potato products: Widely used in China’s
U.S.-style fast-food restaurants and hotels, there is
still room for market expansion. As with other items,
distribution is the primary impediment.
Salmon: Still a relatively new product in this
market, salmon is present on a seasonal basis, although
most is imported from Norway at present. Consumer
education is needed, and salmon faces the same
distribution problems as other seafood.
Condiments: Heinz products are already
present in the market, mostly supplied to hotel
Fresh vegetables: At least one distributor is
supplying imported fresh vegetables, albeit on an
infrequent basis. Logistics is a major obstacle, and
loss due to spoilage is extremely high.
Frozen vegetables: Frozen U.S. sweet corn and
frozen mixed vegetables are very popular and widely
available here as they are elsewhere in China.
Dairy products: Local retailers believe there
is substantial demand for cheeses and butter, but
competition from Australia is strong.
Wines: Retailers indicate strong potential, but
note that wines over $12 per bottle can sell only at
high-end gift shops.
Popcorn: This snack food is doing well in
Breakfast cereals: U.S.-style cold
cereals are gaining popularity with Chinese consumers,
who often eat them as snacks.
Bryan Stewart is a market researcher and Ralph Bean
is the deputy director of the FAS Agricultural Trade
Office in Shanghai, China. For more information on the Chengdu market, contact that office at: E-mail: