Taiwan Country Profile

Market Overview:

Thanks to the country’s quick and well organized response to the Covid 19 viral outbreak, the internal economic damage has been tamed in Taiwan, at least by regional standards.  It is the external shocks that may have the most damaging effect and perhaps leading to recession of up to 2% in 2020.  Lack of global demand prospects indicate that Taiwan will not remain immune from the wider economic slowdown, with domestic demand likely dampened as a result of deferred consumer spending.  Increasing cross-strait tensions with China further cloud the outlook.  As such, the government announced further stimulus funding in early April, taking the potential total to US$35 billion which is around 5% of GDP.

The present government’s goal of lessening economic dependence on China will be a key priority over the next several years.  The key to this strategy is Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy, which aims to promote trade and investment with other Asian countries.

A long-term challenge is to remain competitive with Asian rivals as they expand their free trade deals with Taiwan’s trading partners.  Taiwan’s new Asia Silicon Valley Development Plan aims to promote research and development for devices and applications of the “internet of things”.  The program should boost Taiwan’s international competitiveness in the long term.  Another goal is to ensure that the service sector makes a more significant contribution.  Public-private collaboration was expected to boost output in the service sector to NT$4.75 trillion by 2020.  The possibility of more protectionist trade policies by the U.S. and strained relations with China are risks.

In 2020, Taiwan’s population was 23.6 million (CIA World Factbook Est.)  The median age had risen to 42.3 years in 2020, 9.9 years greater than the figure for 2000 and well above the regional average.  Taiwanese society is clearly ageing and that process will accelerate over the next 15 years.  The ageing process is also reflected in the fertility rate, which fell to just 1.1 births per female in 2017.   This is the lowest rate of any major Asian country.  The number of people over 65 expected to account for nearly 20% of the island's total population by 2025.

USDA’s Agricultural Trade Office or “ATO” hereinafter referred to as “Post” reports that Taiwan’s dependence on food and feed imports is expected to continue to grow due to its limited arable land and small agricultural sector.  Taiwan imported US$4 billion of food and agricultural products (including edible fishery products) from the United States in 2018, representing 24% of Taiwan’s total agriculture import market.  The United States also exports many high-valued consumer oriented agricultural products, including beef, poultry, fresh fruit and vegetables, dairy, tree nuts, processed foods, and beverages. Taiwan relies on imports of essential agricultural commodities for food and feed purposes. The United States is viewed as a provider of high-quality, safe products and is currently the largest supplier of many consumer food products to Taiwan.

Post reports that Taiwan has concluded free trade agreements with ten other economies including: El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, China, Singapore, Paraguay, Eswatini, and New Zealand.  New Zealand’s economic partnership agreement remains the largest threat to many U.S. exports, with tariff free access for a wide variety of products forthcoming in 2022.

Advantages 

  • U.S. food products enjoy an excellent reputation among consumers
  • The growing modern retail industry is looking for new imported food products
  • The majority of Taiwan’s consumers are becoming more health conscious and less cost conscious when shopping
  • The popularity of American holidays and culture/lifestyle leads to promotional events organized around these themes by restaurants and hotels throughout the year
  • Consumers are brand-conscious, and America is a leader in food brands that set trends
  • There is a wide variety of U.S. food products available to Taiwan consumers
  • Increasing growth of fast food chains and casual dining restaurants is a key to industry growth

Challenges

  • U.S. food products are not always price competitive in the market
  • Taiwan is the United States’ eighth largest market for agricultural exports but is often overlooked by U.S. suppliers eager to export to China
  • U.S. exporters are sometimes reluctant to change product specifications to comply with Taiwan requirements and/or consumer preferences
  • Many U.S. companies are unwilling to provide low volume, consolidated shipments of high-value products to importers/end users
  • Consumers maintain a preference for “fresh” food products over “frozen”
  • Competition from agricultural and food exporters from countries with an economic agreement with Taiwan is a growing challenge
  • Numerous food regulations and standards are not in line with U.S. or international standards

2019 U.S. exports of consumer-oriented agricultural products grew 6% to US$1.7 billion, making it the 7th largest export market for the aggregate and a new record high.  Taiwan is the 12th largest U.S. market for processed foods as well, totaling US$665.8 million in 2019, up 2% from 2018.  Top processed export products imported by Taiwan in 2019 included:

  • Food Preparations
  • Processed Vegetables And Pulses
  • Non-Alcoholic Beverages
  • Processed/Prepared Dairy Products
  • Snack Foods
  • Dog and Cat Food
  • Prepared/Preserved Seafood
  • Chocolate and Confectionery
  • Beer and Wine
  • Processed Fruit 

Retail Sector Highlights:

 

According to Euromonitor, retail sales in the packaged food market in Taiwan were estimated to reach US$11.2 billion in 2019.  That represents a growth rate of 14.8% or US$1.4 billion since 2015.  By the year 2024, retail sales in the packaged food market in Taiwan is expected to reach nearly US$13.9 billion, a growth rate of 19%, or US$2.2 billion.  High growth products in the forecast include:

  • Ready Meals
  • Ice cream and frozen desserts
  • Savory snacks
  • Dairy products
  • Sweet Biscuits, Snack Bars and Fruit Snacks
  • Soup
  • Confectionery
  • Baked goods

Post reports that Taiwan’s retail sector topped US$42.7 billion in 2018, a new record high, up 4.1% from 2017.  The retail food sector is dominated by chain operators like Costco, 7-Eleven, PX Mart, Carrefour, and Wellcome.  The density of Taiwan’s 10,619 convenience stores is the highest in the world, around one convenience store for every 2,304 local residents.  In 2018, the revenue generated by supermarkets rose 4.3% to US$6.6 billion.  Sales generated by convenience stores remained the same from 2017 to 2018, while hypermarket sales grew 2.5% to $6.63 billion.  Other retail outlets, including e-commerce, Mom-and-Pop shops, and wet markets, increased 3.8% to US$5.4 billion.

Euromonitor reports that changes in the population structure due to a significant drop in birth rates are leading to an increasing number of small families.  Whereas people would tend to go to wet markets in the past for purchases of large amounts of fresh food for bigger families, they are shifting towards supermarkets for smaller portions.  Two main changes are happening as a result of the shift towards a smaller family social structure. Firstly, the rate of dining out is increasing.  Secondly, smaller portions of fresh food are more popular than larger ones.

To meet consumer demand for smaller portions, supermarkets have the advantage of a high coverage rate and are able to offer a diverse range of standardized fresh food in smaller portions daily.  PX Mart has already addressed this trend with its own fresh food factories and a distribution center. Its manufacturing facilities have kept expanding showing its expectation of fresh food’s growth and the improvement of delivery systems in Taiwan.  PX Mart has also launched a point’s collection scheme, allowing consumers to exchange points for kitchenware for the purpose of encouraging more people to cook by themselves rather than dining out.

In the review period (2015-2019), supermarkets’ main target was to penetrate every community in Taiwan and meet consumer demand.  However, premium supermarkets in Taiwan have not positioned themselves as normal supermarkets.  The high-income population in Taiwan enjoy going to premium supermarkets and care more about the quality of the products rather than their price.  After rounds of food scandals, such as manufacturers mixing bad quality ingredients into blended oils, consumers believe premium supermarkets offer more reliable products leading to their high popularity.  Therefore, there is significant potential for high-level supermarkets such as Market Place by Jasons and City Super.  These players have also tried to cooperate with smaller but quality-guaranteed suppliers to secure product reliability and distinctiveness.

Euromonitor reports that Taiwan has been famous for different types of complex convenience stores since 2018.  Usually, these stores are a combination of the original convenience store and another type of store.  Leading player President Chain Store Corp, which owns 7-Eleven in Taiwan, launched the biggest complex store in December 2018 with three times more selling space than a normal convenience store and the inclusion of five other types of store – a book shop, a coffee shop, a bakery, a confectionery shop and a pharmacy.  Consumers are also provided with seating inside so that they can enjoy all the services and products there.  Compared to other smaller complex stores, 7-Eleven has shown its capability as the leading player in convenience stores.

Family Mart, owned by Taiwan Family Mart Co Ltd, is the second-placed player in convenience stores with significant growth since 2017.  In the war of store complexity, it has also launched many different store types to test consumers’ preference.  Its café complex store, launched in December 2018, has claimed success. Family Mart has invested in its cold chain system to catch up on the trend towards fast-dining meals.  The availability of frozen ready meals in Family Mart stores has expanded widely since there are comfortable seats inside the stores for consumers to sit and enjoy their food.  The major purpose of the retailer providing a dining area is to position itself as a coffee shop with a well-decorated interior design and a counter for ordering coffee and cakes as well as smelling the coffee beans.  Family Mart also promotes its private label ranges, especially Let’s Café for its coffee shop and baked goods which are increasingly purchased alongside coffee.

PresiCarre Co Ltd acquired five Taisuco hypermarkets from Tai Sugar Corp and planned to reopen them at the end of 2019 under the name of Carrefour. Taisuco has not performed well, continuing to lose profits.  Fortunately, Carrefour has come to a deal with Taisuco to expand Carrefour’s outlets.  Hypermarkets in Taiwan remained dominated by three major players and their combined value shares increased in 2019. High entry barriers and less profitability due to price-sensitive consumers have kept investors away from joining hypermarkets in Taiwan.

Consumers view warehouse club Costco as a direct competitor to hypermarkets.  Many consumers also consider Costco as a hypermarket brand.  Hypermarkets and Costco both sell larger-package products in their stores with diverse product ranges available.  In addition, they are compared in terms of their e-commerce offering. For example, many consumers understand that if they wish to purchase fresh food online, they cannot consider Costco since it does not provide this option online.  However, Costco is loved by most Taiwanese consumers and, despite having fewer outlets compared to hypermarkets; it maintains strong growth every year.  Hypermarket players also view Costco as their main competitor in Taiwan.  With Costco increasingly listing products that are popular among consumers, hypermarkets are experiencing a stronger threat from Costco.

Best Product Prospects:

The growth of U.S. food and agricultural exports to Taiwan are mostly high-value consumer-oriented products.  While U.S. bulk commodity products exports to are facing more competition from countries with lower costs, U.S. exports of consumer-oriented products, such as meat, poultry, and fresh fruits have enjoyed good growth in recent years.  Products present in the market that have good sales potential include beef, chicken, fresh fruits including berries, fresh vegetables, tree nuts, pet food and cheese.

 

Food Service Sector Highlights:

 

According to the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA), the economic output of Taiwan’s foodservice sector (excluding institutional food service) was estimated at US$25.3 billion in 2018, a 5.4% increase from 2017.   The foodservice sector has enjoyed stable growth over the past decade with tourism development cited as a primary driver.   Other factors such as the rise of consumer income, smaller family sizes, a growing number of working women, and the growth of e-commerce have helped the foodservice sector growth.

Delivery services are having a profound impact on the foodservice industry by increasing overall revenue but not benefiting net profits.  Most of the hotel restaurant institutional (HRI) sector’s growth is in the fast-food, coffee shop, and casual-dining segments, while foreign tourists’ food expenditures continue to be an income generator for Taiwan's overall gross domestic product.

Socializing in hotel restaurants is common in Taiwan.  As a result, hotel restaurants have become a significant source of revenue. Food served on these occasions tends to be either Western-style buffets or Chinese-style food banquets.  Also, holiday celebrations are becoming commercialized, especially Western holidays such as Christmas, Thanksgiving, Independence Day (American Week Food Promotions), Halloween, Oktoberfest, and Valentine's Day. Taiwan’s hotel restaurants use these occasions to promote set menus, offering excellent opportunities for U.S. foods and beverages.  In addition to the general foodservice business, hotels have also focused in recent years on specific gift food packages for various festivals, such as moon cake gift packs for the Moon Festival, chocolate gift packs for Valentines’ Day, and turkey hampers for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Most restaurants in Taiwan are casual dining places.  As most of the restaurants in this category are small businesses, they purchase materials mainly from wholesalers and wet markets.  Only larger chains/franchises tend to buy products from importers or import directly.

Evergreen Sky Catering Corporation, China Pacific Catering Service, TransAsia Catering Services, Ltd., and the Kaohsiung Airport Catering Services dominate the local air catering market.  Because of the intense competition between them, the companies are aggressively expanding their catering business to include local convenience stores, restaurants, coffee shops, schools, and hospitals.  The companies mostly purchase ingredients from local importers, manufacturers, and wholesalers.  However, they will import meat and poultry directly.

Food and beverage (F&B) managers and executive chefs working in major international hotels are the key persons who make purchasing decisions.  Purchasing departments procures various food ingredients based on the list that the F&B section provides.  Hotels, especially those that employ foreign chefs or offer authentic international cuisines and other high-end family style restaurants typically use more items from importers or wholesalers/distributors.  

Western and local fast food restaurant chains usually either have their own distribution channels, or they contract with an independent distribution center to purchase, process, and deliver the daily needs to each outlet island wide.  Fast food chains also maintain their own research and development teams, or work in close collaboration with one or more contracted catering service(s) to develop and frequently renew menus to meet consumers’ demand.  Medium-level family-style chain restaurants maintain a centralized purchasing department and a centralized kitchen as well.  The centralized kitchen prepares meals, including bakery products, and delivers the foods to all outlets of the restaurant chain.

According to Post, the majority of HRI companies purchase most of their food products from importers, distributors, wholesalers, regional wholesale markets, wet markets, and hypermarkets. Imported fresh items, such as produce, fish/seafood, and beef, are usually purchased and delivered directly from importers or through distributors or wholesalers. Institutional users buy most products from local distributors or import directly.  Consequently, U.S. companies should concentrate their efforts on establishing business relationships with reliable and efficient importers and distributors, who, in turn, sell to HRI end users.

A recent trend is that retail outlets such as Costco are frequented by many small foodservice/HRI operators who buy items in bulk at the lowest possible cost, thereby avoiding the need to source from multiple importers.

Best Product Prospects:

Best prospect products for U.S. exporters in the food service sector include beef and beef offal, pork and pork variety meat, poultry, fish and seafood products, dairy products, fresh fruit and vegetables, tree nuts, wine and coffee

Food-Processing Sector Highlights:

 

In 2018, the food processing industry employed 135,000 people and produced an estimated US$17.9 billion of processed food and drinks, accounting for 3.6% of the gross domestic product (GDP).  Consumer desire for convenience and a growing attention to food safety have influenced the industry to develop not only easy-to-prepare meals and healthier options, but also to embrace clean label initiatives.  Currently, the domestic market absorbs 85% of overall food production.  However, Taiwan processed exports will account for a higher percentage in the future.  Many Taiwan food companies are focused outwardly because the domestic (market) population is shrinking so local manufacturers are focusing on exports for further growth, especially to the growing economies of Southeast Asia.

Among 21 sub-sectors across the food processing industry, the top five largest sub-sectors by value are: animal feed, non-alcohol beverages, edible fat & oil, chill/frozen/processed meat, and dairy, representing 13%, 8%, 7%, 7%, and 6% of food processing industry’s total production value, respectively.  In terms of potential growth, the sub-sectors of prepared meals, condiments/seasonings, processed fruit and vegetables, edible fat & oil, and chill/frozen/processed meat together showed significant growth (eight percent), exceeding overall industry growth of 3%.

Opportunities exist to expand U.S. food product sales to Taiwan’s food processing and ingredient sector.  Taiwan’s food processing and ingredients industry is comprised of the following sectors: beverage, coffee/cocoa, condiments/seasonings, dairy products, fats/oils, flour/ bakery products, fruits/vegetables, meat/poultry products, snack foods, and sugar and confectionery.  Taiwan’s continued modernization and increased acceptance of western food make it an extremely attractive market for U.S. exporters.  It also serves as an excellent test market for companies interested in exporting food products to China.

Best Product Prospects:

Best prospects for U.S. exporters in this sector include cheese, tree nuts, non-gmo soybeans, dried fruit, fluid milk, roasted malt, pre-mixes and frozen dough, cereal grains, barley, frozen fruit, whey protein concentrate and soybeans.  

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