China Food

Temporary food, 10 billion business behind gimmicks

is the “temporary food” robbed by young people self-help or commercial blue ocean?

Dong Dong recently fell in love with a chocolate sandwich bear cake. When she was ready to place an order on an orange software, the same one with a “low price tag” attracted her attention. Generally speaking, the unit price of this bear biscuit is about 10 yuan, but this store can easily win it at only half the price, but the shelf life of the product is only about three months when it is purchased.
After hesitation, Dongdong looked through the comments on the goods. It seemed that there was nothing wrong, and the store showed that repeat customers had 10W +, so Dongdong placed an order with the idea of giving it a try. After receiving the goods, Dong Dong was pleasantly surprised to find that this so-called “temporary food” was exactly the same as the previous one in terms of appearance and taste. He thought this time the wool was picked up right.
In fact, there are not a few consumers like Dongdong. On Douban, the “I love temporary food” group has more than 90000 members since its establishment in September 2020; On Weibo, # young people have more than 100 million readers who buy temporary food to reduce waste # topics; According to the statistics of the cold knowledge report on temporary consumption released by Taobao and popular science China, there are nearly 10000 temporary food stores on Taobao, and more than 2.1 million people buy temporary food on Taobao every year.
At the same time, offline temporary food stores are also booming, and even become the destination of “one-stop shopping” for many consumers.
More and more people are keen to buy temporary food, which has even become a new trend of consumption. So, how big is the blue ocean in the temporary food consumption market?
The report “China’s interim food industry in 2021: analysis of the logic of interim food out of the circle” released by toubao Research Institute shows that the scale of China’s interim food market will reach 19.4 billion yuan in 2020 and is expected to exceed 20 billion yuan in 2021. With the supply side reform and the expansion of demand scale, the interim food market is expected to accelerate growth from 2021 to 2025, with broad future prospects.
Source: Cheetah Research Institute
In the face of the temptation of “hot food”, many enterprises have evolved into a “hot food” business. But now the epidemic is severe, and the business environment is more complicated and confusing. If enterprises want to enter the Bureau, it is obviously not enough to rely on opportunities alone. They must understand what “temporary food” is, and also find out the business logic and risks behind it. Only in this way can players who step on the tuyere take off in the wind.
Capital also likes to eat “temporary food”
The so-called “temporary food” is not “expired food”. For “temporary food”, people are most concerned about how long its “critical period” is. According to the local management regulations of provinces and cities across the country on temporary food, the definition of “temporary” is mainly divided into two types: the first is the specified number of days before the expiration date of quality guarantee; The second is the specific proportion of days before the expiration date of the quality guarantee. For different specific food categories, please refer to the following table.
On the safety of temporary food, Liu Shaowei, deputy director of FDA research center of East China University of technology, also said that as long as the food is stored properly within the shelf life and there are no problems in quality and safety, it can be eaten safely. Moreover, the price of temporary food sold on the market is usually only 30% – 50% of its original price, and there are even some big brands, which is very tempting for consumers.
With a huge consumer group of 10 billion yuan, the less favored temporary food has become a “sweet pastry”, and even capital can’t wait to have a taste. According to the incomplete statistics of several food claims, in 2021, many temporary food brands such as good special sale, affordable help and hi special purchase received financing, and the amount was once as high as tens of millions of yuan.
In addition to financing trends, the popularity of temporary food is also reflected in the recent surge in the number of enterprises. According to the data of tianyancha, as of mid April 2022, there were 1233 enterprises related to “temporary food”, “discount food” and “special food”, of which 742 were established in recent five years, more than half.
It can be seen from the above data that under the capital support, the temporary food track has entered a period of rapid growth since its outbreak in 2020, and its scale has been expanding, covering a variety of online and offline sales channels. Online channels, temporary food is mainly active in e-commerce shopping platforms (Taobao,, pinduoduo), wechat community and apps like “sale”; Offline, consumers prefer to go to temporary food supermarkets, such as “good sale”, temporary food counters of supermarkets or discount areas of fresh food stores.
Source: Cheetah Research Institute
Although the temporary special sale supermarket began to appear frequently in the public view in the past two years, in fact, China’s temporary food is not a “new business”. This track has a long history, which can be said to be accompanied by the food retail industry.
Before 2010, due to relatively loose supervision, temporary food mainly circulated in some street retail stores; From 2010 to 2015, the brand began to sell temporary food to customers by establishing direct stores; From 2016 to 2020, with the rise of community group buying, temporary food entered people’s lives through many “special promotion activities”, and temporary food integrated stores began to appear on the market one after another; Since 2020, the rise of live e-commerce has brought huge traffic to temporary food. At the same time, the offline chain of temporary food discount stores has gradually formed a certain scale and exploded in a blowout.
It is thought-provoking that why did the temporary food track usher in spring in the past two years? Its popularity is by no means accidental. In addition to the help of capital, what other factors are playing a role?
Temporary food has become a “new food fashion”
In the past, going to the supermarket to rush to buy “special food” seemed to be the patent of the elderly, but it didn’t seem to be too “mainstream” for people of other ages. But now things have changed.
Interestingly, the younger generation has become the main group to buy temporary food. According to the portrait of Chinese temporary food users in 2021 of AI media consulting, among the people who buy temporary food, the middle-aged and young people aged 22-40 occupy an overwhelming advantage, reaching 74.6%, and more than half of the consumption groups of temporary food are distributed in the first and second tier cities, mostly middle-income people, and the proportion of women is higher than that of men, nearly 60%.
Source: AI media consulting
On the one hand, due to the awakening of the public’s consumption awareness, they are often willing to pay a higher price for things with high preservation rate and long-term use, but they tend to choose more economical and affordable FMCG categories such as food. Although the temporary food may be deficient in taste, nutrients, color and other aspects, it basically has no major safety problems. Compared with its affordable price, it is more flawed. Therefore, the purchase of temporary food can not only bring them the feeling of “picking up wool”, but also meet their demand for cost performance.
On the other hand, young people are keen to buy temporary food not because they become poor. The above data show that a large part of the target population are urban white-collar workers with high income. The main reason for its consumption core is that this generation of young people began to pay more attention to “cost-effective” consumption. They not only hope to be “better to themselves” as much as possible, but also are unwilling to pay too much money for it. In fact, this also reflects that the public’s consumption view is undergoing great changes. Contemporary young people are no longer the representative of “blind consumption”. On the contrary, their consumption view has become more and more rational, and they are using a more rational way of consumption to resist the invasion of “consumerism”.
Source: innovation News Network
In addition, the global problem of “food waste” is attracting the attention of people all over the world. Another reason why people buy temporary food is that they hope to contribute to protecting the environment and saving resources. According to the estimation of the 2021 food waste index report of the United Nations Environment Programme, 931 million tons of food waste were produced worldwide in 2019 alone, accounting for 17% of the global food production. More than 60% of the waste came from the daily life of families, and the rest came from food retail and catering industry. The 2021 edition of the state of world food security and nutrition once pointed out that due to the new crown, the problem of world hunger in 2020 is deteriorating rapidly. It is estimated that as many as 811 million people worldwide suffer from hunger, an increase of 160 million compared with 2019. Among them, about 2.37 billion people in developing countries such as Asia, Africa and Latin America suffer from moderate or severe food security problems.
Although the new crown has had a great impact on the global famine problem in the past two years, in the long run, the famine problem is more attributed to food waste, for which both developed and developing countries are responsible. According to the statistics of the environmental agency, in 2019, 35% of the food in the United States was not eaten at all or even sold, resulting in waste equivalent to 2% of the GDP of the United States; In Japan, this figure is also amazing, reaching 6 million tons; In China, according to statistics, the total amount of food waste in China’s urban catering industry is estimated to be between 17-18 billion kg per year. According to the statistics of UNEP, 8% – 10% of the global greenhouse gas emissions come from food waste. The food that could have been used for hungry people flows into garbage dumps, sewers or incinerators, so the environment is overwhelmed.
Source: Tencent
In fact, China launched the “CD-ROM action” as early as 2013 to crack down on waste behaviors such as eating and broadcasting. In April 2021, China passed the anti food waste law, which further standardized the temporary food market, which stipulates that “food operators such as supermarkets and shopping malls should strengthen daily inspection of their food, classify and manage the food close to the shelf life, make special marks or display and sell them centrally”. The promulgation of a series of policies not only marks the upgrading of the concept of mass consumption, but also escort the temporary food track. Nowadays, more and more millennials and generation Z in China are aware of the environmental pressure brought by food waste to the earth. Therefore, the “frugality” of the older generation is making a comeback, and buying temporary food has even become the pride of young people.
However, the popularity of temporary food depends not only on the boost of capital and the “retro” of consumption concept, but also on the changes of its industrial chain and business model. So how does this business turn from cold to hot by “itself”?
Where is temporary food “profitable”?
In a sense, the outbreak of temporary food is the inevitable result of the development of China’s snack industry to a certain extent. When it comes to temporary food, we have to talk about the development process of the whole snack industry.
In the initial period of China’s snack industry, the public’s demand for snacks only stayed at the shallow level of supplementary diet. With the popularization of healthy lifestyle, people began to pay attention to the quality of snacks. Professional snack manufacturers and snack shops began to appear in the industry, but at that time, people could only buy goods in Limited stores offline.
With the advent of the Internet era, e-commerce began to go deep into all aspects of people’s lives. Offline stores are no longer people’s only shopping channels. Diversified consumption scenes have spawned snack giant brands in all channels. How to control the needs of consumers has become a “must compete” for major brands.
Nowadays, the snack industry has become mature, and comprehensive snack brands have been formed in all channels. Consumers have a variety of choices, but at the same time, the industry has also fallen into the dilemma of homogenization. How to achieve differentiated competition directly determines the success or failure of brand management. The Pearl of the sea “temporary food” provides a practical breakthrough for brands, It also enables consumers to achieve a pleasant shopping experience in a cost-effective way, and realizes a win-win situation between customers and sellers.
According to the calculation of the prospective research institute, the total output value of China’s snack industry will be close to 4.7 trillion yuan in 2026. Under such a huge scale, even if it is conservatively estimated that there is only 1% inventory precipitation in the snack industry in that year, the temporary food will also form a huge market scale of 47.1 billion yuan.
Figure source: Prospective Research Institute
In the past, the temporary food was nothing more than the “end” of being discarded, presented and sold at a discount, but it did not make the best use of everything. It either caused waste, or the processing capacity was small, and it was inconvenient for customers to buy due to the disorderly placement. In recent years, the temporary food industry has been continuously improved, and a complete industrial chain has been formed.
China’s interim food industry chain can be roughly divided into three parts: upstream, middle and downstream. The upstream is mainly responsible for supply, mainly including brands, agents and wholesalers. The interim food integrated store in the midstream is responsible for integrating the products provided by the upstream and selling them to individual consumers and public welfare institutions in the downstream. In the whole supply chain, the profit of temporary food integrated stores is the highest, up to 30% – 50%.
Source: AI media consulting
In 2020, a COVID-19 swept the world, causing an unprecedented impact on offline physical stores, and a large number of food are unsalable in warehouses. However, the crisis is often accompanied by a turnaround. When the upstream of the industrial chain is at a loss because of the backlog of inventory, many brands took advantage of this opportunity to buy a large number of temporary food at a low price, ushering in a good “money way”.
Public data show that the most representative “good sale” now has more than 400 offline stores, covering many first and second tier cities such as Shanghai, Beijing and Shenzhen. According to its official website, it plans to expand its stores to 5000 in the next three years.
However, after the large-scale expansion period, the competition among enterprises will be more intense. Therefore, how to find an effective breakthrough will become the focus of the temporary food industry in the future.
How should temporary food cut waves in the future?
There are two sides to a river.  
Behind the rapid development of the temporary food industry, many “fishy” such as unclear supply, unqualified packaging and uncertain validity period make consumers unable to ignore and bring bursts of doubts. Today’s laws and regulations only stipulate the time limit of “temporary food”, but due to the impact of logistics, temperature and storage environment, it is difficult to ensure the quality of food in the hands of consumers. After all, consumers’ consumption motivation is to “buy non discounted quality products at a discounted price”, and they generally do not buy again when there are quality problems. According to the relevant report of AI media consulting on temporary food in 2020, more than 60% of consumers have a negative impression of temporary food.
In addition to “foreign invasion”, the “internal worries” of temporary food are also constant.  
First of all, the biggest problem facing temporary food is the unstable supply of goods. In the final analysis, the production of temporary food is caused by quality defects or the mistakes of upstream manufacturers in capacity prediction, inventory management, logistics and transportation. Once the upstream enterprises correct the mistakes, they will adjust the output of the next batch and directly reduce the production of temporary food, which will lead to the inability of temporary food integrated stores / discount stores in the middle reaches to obtain sustained and stable supply and take the initiative to purchase from the upper reaches, Fall into the passive position of inventory instability. According to the survey of the cheetah Institute, about 33.7% of customers said that there was a consumption experience of unknown brand, small variety range and unstable inventory in temporary food discount stores. Therefore, midstream businesses generally lack the right to speak, difficult to attract customers and low repurchase rate. Moreover, the defects of temporary food itself lead to low customer trust. Once it is unsalable again, it will become “expired food” and form “negative assets”. In China, for reasons such as maintaining brand image, the number of temporary food that first-line brands can circulate in the market is limited. As for the mode that imported food is sold by agents, it determines that its temporary products will only be contracted to large snack food wholesalers.
Cheetah Research Institute: consumers report deficiencies in temporary food collection stores, 2021
In addition, as can be seen from the figure below, temporary food warehouses are mainly concentrated in port cities such as Shanghai, Qingdao and Tianjin. Considering the logistics cost and time, integrated stores in the middle reaches are mostly set up around the warehouse in accordance with the “proximity principle”, so that they can communicate with each other more timely and effectively about pre-sales and after-sales issues, and the radiation range of the warehouse is very limited. However, it is more inconvenient in areas far away from the place of inventory. Inspection of warehouses, purchase and business communication need to pay higher time costs and logistics costs. According to the statistics of toubao Research Institute, the logistics cost consumed by stores in inland provinces accounts for 5% – 10% of their total cost, which will directly improve the final pricing of goods, while higher pricing will make them lose the advantage of special price, thus further weakening the competitiveness of products.
Cheetah Research Institute: key distribution sites of temporary food warehouses in China, 2020
Despite the rapid warming of temporary food, its risks also coexist with heat, and there are still great risks in blindly entering the industry. So, how can the temporary food players do a good job in this business in the future?
1. Fight a good price war and realize fine operation
First of all, temporary food should give full play to its greatest advantages and fight a “price war”. Generally, the take-up price of midstream brands is 2-30% of the positive price of goods. When it forms a stable supply-demand relationship with the upstream, it has stronger bargaining power and more considerable profits. As the temporary food is more sensitive to the date, it is more difficult to manage the inventory of temporary food. The store needs to adjust the commodity pricing according to the dynamic sales situation to realize fine operation.
In terms of inventory sorting, online stores are more convenient than offline stores. They can use algorithms to adjust the date and price by themselves. The closer to the expiration time, the greater the discount will be given, such as 20% off for half a year and 60% off for five months. Offline stores have a more direct impact and attraction for consumers. As long as they have a stable supply of goods and exquisite shelves, they can attract consumers. In addition, the striking discount slogan in the store can greatly stimulate consumers’ purchase desire.
Source: hotmaxx official website
2. Online + offline mode, master the traffic password
In the information age, the aroma of wine is also afraid of the depth of the alley, and the temporary food can not escape the topic of “flow”. To explore the public’s interest in temporary food, we must first attract a wave of “natural flow”. Online, temporary food can harvest a large amount of natural traffic through platforms such as Taobao,, pinduoduo and Tiktok. Offline, stores should choose their addresses in places with large traffic, such as large stores, near universities and other places, in order to achieve the maximum exposure, so as to give full play to their price advantages and promote sales.
In the early stage of industry development, seizing the mind of consumers is the primary task of developing the market. At present, China’s interim food industry is in its infancy, and the conversion rate of offline channels is higher, which is still the best choice to expand the market. However, considering the cost factor, businesses can adopt the sales model of “offline brand impression + online re purchase”, combining the advantages of offline stores with the characteristics of lower online channel prices and consumers’ impulsive consumption, so as to promote consumers to buy repeatedly and achieve the purpose of increasing sales.
3. Give play to “waste heat” in public welfare
It is commendable that temporary food also plays a “waste heat” role in many public welfare. In Shanghai, there is such a “Oasis Food Bank” that combines temporary food with public welfare. It will distribute temporary food donated from various channels every day to benefit needy groups. The concept of “food bank” comes from overseas, and its main purpose is to advocate “cherish food and share”. According to its person in charge, Li Bing, Oasis Food Bank helped 239 food manufacturers, “rescue” more than 1000 tons of temporary food to be wasted, and distributed it to more than 1 million people in need of help free of charge.
Source: China Food banking
“Food bank” is not the only channel for temporary food to do public welfare. As early as 2017, the model of “shared refrigerator” has sprung up in Beijing, Shanghai and other places, helping supermarkets and catering companies donate a lot of temporary food to the society. Nowadays, many enterprises are using their own resources to imitate this model and make their own contributions. Several food advocates hope that more caring enterprises will pay attention to this field in the future and form an effective cooperation mechanism to make our local “food bank” benefit more groups.
As a special kind of food category, temporary food is often accompanied by some food safety problems and consumption disputes. With the gradual popularity of temporary food, the society is also paying more and more attention to it. It is imperative to ensure the healthy and orderly development of its market.
For the problem of defining the time limit of various categories of temporary food, the state should issue detailed standards and define them at different levels. The market supervision department should also timely issue corresponding and effective supervision measures, strengthen the supervision of relevant temporary food manufacturers and sellers, and severely crack down on illegal acts. For consumers, temporary food should be purchased on demand without excessive hoarding. Although its price is low, it should also maintain rational consumption, and do not turn the pursuit of benefits into “paying IQ tax”. Therefore, the media also need correct publicity and guidance. For manufacturers, they should enhance safety awareness, control quality, do not tamper with dates and other illegal acts, and actively cooperate in negotiating disputes with consumers.
It is believed that the development of various online and downstream brands will move in the same direction in the future.
Note: Dong Dong in the text is a pseudonym
Reference source:
1. Analysis on the current market situation and development prospect of China’s temporary food industry in 2021 the market scale may exceed 47 billion yuan in 2026
2. AI media consulting | case study report on the development and benchmarking of China’s interim food industry from 2021 to 2022
3. Why are 2.1 million people buying temporary food popular every year?
4. Rising trend of fast expired food
5. From “unpopular track” to “capital hot”, how can temporary food achieve “transformation”?
6. 2021 China’s temporary food industry: logical analysis of temporary food out of the circle – cheetah Research Institute



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