Falling instant-noodle sales points to the economic rise of rural China

  • China last year sold 8 billion fewer packets of instant noodles than it did in 2013.
  • Fewer migrants from rural China are moving to cities, which is affecting sales.
  • Instead, workers are staying in rural areas of China where annual incomes are rising at a faster rate than in cities.

People in China are eating billions fewer packets of instant noodles every year, the state-run Global Times reported Monday.

Citing the World Instant Noodles Association, Global Times said China and Hong Kong ate 46.2 billion packets in 2013. By 2016 that had dropped by about 8 billion packets to 38.5 billion. And more than one major manufacturer has experienced a drop in profit over 25%.

While the popularity of on-demand food services that provide cheap, quick food to China’s growing middle class are affecting instant-noodle sales, another key contributor is the rise of rural China.

An economics professor at Tongji University, Zhang Xin, told Global Times that sales had plunged because far fewer low-paid migrants from rural China were moving to or living in cities, where they are one of the biggest consumers of instant noodles.

From 2010 to 2016, the growth in migrant workers dropped off significantly to 0.5% from 5.2%. And in 2015, the migrant population decreased for the first time in 30 years.

Instead, more workers are returning to their hometowns after acquiring skills or money in the cities or choosing not to leave in the first place because of increased opportunities.

Over the past seven years, the annual net income in rural China has outpaced the growth of that in urban centres. And, by 2020, China is hoping to double its people’s per capita salaries from their 2010 levels.

Big tech in China is also playing a part. Both Alibaba and JD.com have begun implementing projects to connect rural sellers with buyers across the country, with the hope of raising local incomes.

High-speed trains are also killing the instant noodle

Better infrastructure is also hurting the instant-noodle market in China.

Long train journeys back to rural hometowns used to be standard in China, where there were no high-speed trains as recently as a decade ago. Now the country has the world’s largest high-speed train network, running over 12,400 miles, or 20,000 kilometers.

While this has drastically cut journey times, it has also cut the number of meals that workers would consume aboard the trains.

One traveller told Global Times his 20-hour trip, during which he used to eat three meals, had begun to take only six hours, so he no longer needed to eat instant noodles. Other travellers are using a pilot program at 27 stations to order food on-demand.

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