woman drinking shake

Snacking in China: Snacking Preferences and Barriers to Growth

In Part 3 of our consumer research series, learn what Chinese consumers look for in healthy snacks and the main barriers to category growth. 


  • Chinese consumers prefer tasty, natural snacks that are high in protein.
  • The majority of consumers prefer milk protein as their protein source.

3-Part Series on Healthy Snacking in China

Our new series on healthy snacking in China is based on proprietary consumer research that includes 800 Chinese consumers who shared their attitudes and behaviors around snacking. Part 1, Chinese Consumers and Healthy Snacking, showed which snacks consumers perceive as healthy and found dairy-based and protein-fortified snacks at the top of the list, with consumption of these growing in the past year.

Download our Snacking Guide to explore global snacking trends and the state of the healthy snacking market.

For Part 2, Protein and Its Role in Snacking, we saw that snacking in China is primarily driven by comfort and reward and that protein snacks are fulfilling a wide range of needs and occasions. In Part 3, we look at Chinese consumers’ preferred attributes in protein snacks and the reasons non-users don’t consume protein snacks.

Chinese Consumers’ Attribute Preferences in Snacks

When we asked Chinese consumers what they look for in snacks, the trend across product types and formats is that high protein, taste, and naturalness are top preferences. For protein/energy bars consumers, high protein was the number one attribute chosen. 13% of Chinese nutrition bar consumers look for high protein in their protein/energy bars, while 12% look for all natural/naturally produced.


In cereal bars, naturalness leads, with 15% seeking all natural/naturally produced. In addition, 9% of Chinese consumers look for cereal bars that will taste great. For protein-enhanced snacks, great tasting is the most important (at 15%), just ahead of all natural (at 13%). Protein-enhanced snacks that are high in protein are important to 8% of Chinese consumers.

When asked about the source of protein Chinese consumers prefer in protein-fortified products, the top answers were milk, soy, and whey protein, with 66% of consumers open to both dairy and plant proteins. 80% of Chinese consumers say they are willing to pay a premium for their preferred protein source.

Chinese Consumer Preferences in Protein Source

Q: When it comes to protein-fortified products such as bars, drinks, and cookies, what type of protein do you prefer them to contain?

  • Milk protein (53%)  
  • Soy protein (51%)
  • Whey protein (37%)
  • Rice protein (26%)
  • Pea protein (18%)
  • Fava bean protein (15%)
  • Lentil protein (13%)
  • Hemp protein (10%)
  • Insect protein (8%)

Download our Protein Guide to prepare your brand for the future of protein and see how protein source influences consumers globally.

Barriers to Growth in China’s Snacking Market

Since protein-fortified snacks are widely considered to be healthy by Chinese consumers and most of these consumers are active, we wanted to understand the reasons some consumers don't buy protein snacks. Our survey focused on those who had not consumed specific protein products (including protein/energy bars, protein shakes made from powder, and protein RTDs) in the past three months.

The main barriers are that they believe they don’t need protein products (e.g., they’re more for body builders), they don’t know the benefits, and the products don’t taste or seem like they would taste very good. This indicates that relevance, benefits of protein, and taste/taste perception need to be addressed by brands to unlock growth in the category.

Reasons Protein Snack Non-Users Do Not Consume These Products

aspac chart

Global Ingredient Partner for Healthy Snacking Solutions

As interest in healthy snacking continues to grow in China, brands that demonstrate their products can provide health benefits while also delivering on comfort and reward through great taste will be poised for success. Both dairy and plant proteins have a role to play in China’s expanding healthy snacking market.

As a global ingredient supplier for healthy nutrition products, Glanbia Nutritionals offers protein and bar solutions that simplify the formulation process and align with consumer trends. Contact us to get started developing your own healthy snack—from protein-fortified beverages to bars.

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