October 24, 2017 / 10:59 AM / in a year

China shoppers rein in spending on cookies to pop drinks: survey

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Growth in sales of consumer goods ranging from biscuits and candies to toothpaste and shampoo has slowed in China to a five-year low, a survey shows, in a major challenge for global firms seeking to attract buyers in the world’s most populous nation.

A consumer chooses soft drinks at a supermarket in Shanghai, China, March 10, 2016. China's consumer inflation accelerated faster-than-expected in February due to rising food prices but another fall in upstream prices is likely to add to concerns about growing deflationary pressures, which could trigger further policy easing. REUTERS/Aly Song

Demand for fast-moving consumer goods has waned in the world’s No.2 economy, with sales growing 2 percent in the first half of 2017 versus year-ago levels, a report from consultancies Kantar Worldpanel and Bain & Co shows.

That is the weakest half-year growth since 2012, according to the report based on a survey of 40,000 households. While sales rose 3.6 percent in the third quarter, it is still a far cry from a near 20 percent growth just over half a decade ago.

The data gives a gauge of how China’s consumers are spending their money - key as Beijing’s leaders, global investors, and brands such as Nestle, Pampers owner Procter & Gamble or Coca-Cola look to tap the spending power of the country’s near 1.4 billion potential shoppers.

“The type of consumption people enjoy now is very different - travel, lifestyle, entertainment are all growing strongly,” said Bruno Lannes, Shanghai-based partner at Bain.

“(This is) where people are spending, and it’s taking money away from fast-moving consumer goods.”

A boom in cheap food delivery - luring huge investment into firms like Meituan-Dianping - has also hit grocery sales as people cook less often at home, Lannes added.

But not all products did badly.

While chocolate, chewing gum and candy saw double-digit drops in sales volume in the first six months, health-focused products like yoghurt and bottled water and some personal care products fared far better.

The Kantar-Bain report offers detailed insights into consumer spending patterns beyond broader official retail sales. The latter also includes data from segments like cars and oil products and showed a rise of 10.3 percent for September.

China - amid a twice-a-decade leadership reshuffle - has posted strong economic growth this year, but this is expected to slow in coming months as higher financing costs and measures to cool the heated property market start to weigh on activity.

The annual Kantar-Bain report also underlined how politics was hitting consumer markets.

Sales of South Korean skin care and makeup products in China fell 4.8 percent in the first half amid a diplomatic stand-off over Seoul’s decision to deploy an anti-missile system.

For 2017, sales of fast-moving consumer goods in China is expected to be “slightly” better than last year’s 2.9 percent rise, which was the slowest in a decade, Kantar’s China General Manager Jason Yu said.

“We did see some recovery in the third quarter,” said Yu. “Really important now is how the fourth quarter performs.”

Reporting by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Himani Sarkar

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