Euromonitor reports that the COVID-19 pandemic added to Hong Kong’s economic problems in 2020, augmenting the unrest-caused decline in 2019. Using vast financial reserves, the country is expected to stabilize the economy over the short term, yet the U.S.-China trade war and China’s growing influence in the country will add to an unstable geopolitical environment. Hong Kong is set to retain its position as the mediator between East and West, but to a lesser degree. Growth of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is forecast at 4.3% in 2021.
Hong Kong’s annual real GDP declined by 6.1% in 2020, as political instability due to the unrest in 2019 was complemented with the economic disturbances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic containment measures.
Inflation declined to 0.4% in 2020, driven by retail outlet closures and subdued domestic demand amid social distancing measures.
International trade declined in 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, while the U.S.-China trade disagreements will pose even stronger risks over the foreseeable future.
Foreign direct investment (FDI) is set to be subdued over the short to medium term, due to China’s growing interference in Hong Kong’s affairs and domestic reluctance to invest in infrastructure projects.
Hong Kong has largely phased out its manufacturing sector, relying instead on the service sector. In the medium term, large-scale infrastructure projects and a rise in real wages will drive domestic demand. The city has significant advantages for further development in industries such as medical services, education services, innovation and technology, testing and certification services and environmental industries.
Hong Kong, China has signed free trade agreements with Chile, New Zealand, and Australia, ASEAN and EFTA and hopes to conclude an agreement with Taiwan. The city-state also hopes to join the Asian-China Free Trade Agreement. Hong Kong is one of the world's largest recipients of foreign direct investment (FDI). The total stock of inward direct investment is more than five times greater than Hong Kong's GDP. Mainland China alone accounts for nearly a third of this total. Hong Kong is also a key offshore capital-raising center for Chinese enterprises.
Population reached 7.5 million in 2019, up from 6.7 million in 2000. Most population gains are the result of immigration. The number entering the country soared in the 1990s but fell over the course of the next decade. More than four-fifths of all immigrants come from mainland China. According to many demographers, Hong Kong, China has one of the world’s lowest fertility rates. It fell to 1 child per female in 2000 before rising to 1.1 children per female in 2019.
The median age in 2018 was 44.6 years and is steadily rising. If present trends continue, the number of people aged 65 and over will account for almost third of the city’s population by 2030. The government faces increasing spending pressures as a result of population ageing.
USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) Agricultural Trade Office (ATO) in Hong Kong, hereinafter referred to as “Post” reports Hong Kong is the sixth-largest export market for U.S. consumer-oriented agricultural products by value. Hong Kong is an attractive market for innovative U.S. food and beverage products as well as a gateway to the region. In 2020, Hong Kong’s retail food sector sales maintained at US$12.7 billion, and the stable trend is expected to continue. The Hong Kong Government has launched multiple stimulus measures to help local residents and businesses cope with the COVID-19 adversity, and Hong Kong’s economy is expected to pick up in the latter half of 2021 when the coronavirus situation improves.
Hong Kong imports of Consumer-Oriented Agricultural Products (COAP) reached US$22 billion in 2020, or 87% of overall agricultural imports. The more popular products imported were fresh fruit, seafood, beef, pork, dairy products, poultry meat, prepared food, wine, bakery products, and non-alcoholic beverages. China, the United States, and Brazil were the top three suppliers.
Advantages and Challenges for U.S. Food Exporters in Hong Kong
Post advises that the U.S. has advantages and challenges in the Hong Kong food market.
Hong Kong is one of the top markets in the world for food and beverages, processed, fresh, and frozen gourmet products.
Hong Kong is a major trading hub where buyers make purchasing decisions for a vast range of consumer-oriented products that are transshipped to China and other parts of Asia.
U.S. food products enjoy an excellent reputation among Hong Kong consumers, as they are renowned as high quality and safe.
Hong Kong is a quality and trend-driven market, so price is not always the most important factor for food and beverage purchases.
Transportation time and costs, combined with U.S. products’ availability and seasonality (e.g. fresh produce) can make them less competitive than products available from regional suppliers such as China, Australia, and New Zealand.
The importance of Hong Kong as a transshipment point and buying center for regional markets is not widely known to U.S. exporters.
Strengthening U.S. dollar will make U.S. products less price competitive
Hong Kong labeling requirements and residue standards can impact trade.
U.S. exports of consumer-oriented products to Hong Kong reached US$1.9 billion in 2020, a decline of 34% from that of 2019. That is over 93% of the agricultural total. Hong Kong is the 10th largest export market from the U.S. for processed foods totaling US$740.8 million in 2020, a decrease of 18% from the prior year. Top U.S. exports of processed food products to Hong Kong in 2020 included:
Food Preparations & Ingredients
Dog & Cat Food
Processed Vegetables & Pulses
Chocolate & Confectionery
“All of Food Export’s programs were a tremendous help getting us export ready, understanding the challenges that come with international business, and learning how to navigate them.”
According to Euromonitor, retail sales in the packaged food market in Hong Kong reached US$4.9 billion in 2020. That represents a decline in growth of 23% or US$1.4 billion since 2016. By the year 2025 the retail sales in the packaged food market in Hong Kong is expected to reach US$7.1 billion, a growth rate of 35.3% and US$1.8 billion. High growth products in the forecast include:
Ice cream & Frozen Desserts
Sweet Biscuits, Snack Bars and Fruit Snacks
Post reports that in 2020, Hong Kong’s retail food sector sales maintained at US$12.7 billion. The Hong Kong food retail market is made up of supermarkets, convenience stores, and traditional markets. Supermarkets account for over 62% of retail food sales. There are 790 supermarkets, 1,300 convenience stores, and nearly 100 traditional markets in Hong Kong, making food shopping very convenient.
“Supermarket/Department Stores” include sales of supermarkets, convenience stores, and food and beverage sections at department stores. They are the modern grocery outlets that provide consumers with convenient and high-quality options. In addition to groceries, these stores offer a more comprehensive shopping experience with increased items of fresh food, bread and pastry, organic options, and hot takeout meals. “Other outlets” refers to the traditional markets, also called wet markets, mom-and-pop stores, bakeries, fresh fruits stalls, etc. These outlets are usually smaller in scale and U.S. food exporters probably need to work with local importers/agents to place products in this sector of the market. Some Hong Kong consumers prefer these stores due to proximities, established relationships, and perception that meat, fish, and produce in traditional shops are fresher.
Two major grocery chains, Wellcome and ParknShop, dominate the supermarket category with nearly 70% market share combined. Both chains recently expanded their premium and upscale outlets as consumers continue to seek high-quality, imported gourmet products. There are more than 1,300 convenience stores in Hong Kong offering drinks, snacks, and some hot food options.
Traditionally, Hong Kong consumers shop daily because of a preference for fresh food. Much of the shopping is still done in traditional markets including street markets and locally-owned shops. Overall, street market sales trend toward fresh foods while supermarkets dominate in processed chilled and frozen, high-value added, and canned food products. The competition between street markets and supermarkets has intensified in recent years.
Although the number of supermarket outlets is expected to remain stable, the market share for supermarket sales is expected to continue in the future at the expense of traditional street markets. The supermarket’s share in terms of total retail sales rose from 44% of total sales in 1995 to 62% in 2020. Online shopping continues to grow especially under COVID-19. In 2020, food and drink e-commerce reached $436 million, a significant increase of 80% over 2019, and it is estimated to reach $554 million12 by 2025.
Best Product Prospects:
Post reports that products with the highest sales potential in this sector include processed vegetables, fresh fruit, dog and cat food, wine and beer, snack foods, condiments and sauces, distilled spirits, beef and non-alcoholic beverages.
Food Service Sector
The COVID-19 pandemic since January 2020 has adversely affected the Hong Kong food service sector as international travels were restricted; theme parks, cruise terminals, and schools were closed upon the Hong Kong government’s restrictions on gatherings and dining. For the first seven months of 2020, visitor numbers reached only 3.5 million, a drop of over 91%. Hotel occupancy on the other hand was 41%, 48 percentage points lower compared with the same period in 2019.
For the first two quarters of 2020, restaurant sales dropped by 29% to US$5.5 billion. It was estimated that the catering industry would lose US$641 million of business in July alone, and thousands of restaurants are expected to temporarily or permanently cease operations should the dining ban continue. While the food service sector was seriously hit, social distancing and stay-home measures aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 have boosted the food delivery market, with luxury hotels, high-end restaurants, and top-notch cake shop joining the platforms.
The main delivery platforms, Deliveroo, Foodpanda, Uber Eats, and other smaller operators, have seen significant increase in orders and new food outlets signing up since the outbreak of the pandemic. On the other hand, restaurant groups ranging from fast food chains to luxury hotels have introduced or strengthened their own delivery services to compensate the loss of their dine-in businesses. Growth in food delivery orders under the pandemic ranged from 20% to over 400%. While food deliveries cannot totally replace dining-in at restaurants especially for events like weddings, banquets, and parties, they provide a lifeline to the hard-hit catering industry to complement their businesses.
There are around 16,000 restaurants in Hong Kong. Major restaurant and food service groups include McDonald’s, Starbucks, Café de Coral, Fairwood, Pacific Coffee, Hung Food Tong, Pizza Hut, KFC, Maxim’s, and Sushi Express.
Best Product Prospects:
Post reports that top consumer oriented imports into Hong Kong from the U.S. include fish products, beef and beef products, fresh fruit, dairy products, pork and pork products, wine and beer, poultry meats and tree nuts.
Post reports that land is limited and extremely expensive in Hong Kong. Therefore, the local food processing sector is small. Imports of bulk and intermediate agricultural commodities were US$433 million and US$2.4 billion, respectively, representing 1.6% and 8.9% of overall agricultural imports.
The total output of the local food processing industry is estimated at below US$1 billion. Major local production includes instant noodles, macaroni, spaghetti, biscuits, pastries and cakes for both domestic consumption and export. Other significant sectors include canning, preserving and processing of seafood (such as fish, shrimp, prawns, and crustaceans); manufacture of dairy products (fresh milk, yogurt and ice cream); seasoning and spirits.
Best Product Prospects:
Post reports that the best prospects for U.S. exporters of processed food ingredients for this sector include shelled nuts, fats and oils, protein concentrates, flavoring, oilseed flour meal, baking inputs, potato products, processed eggs and beverage ingredients.
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