Per Capita Chinese Beef Consumption Low, Growing Slowly

Per capita beef consumption in China is low but rising and facing multiple challenges, said Oklahoma State University Extension Livestock Marketing Specialist Derrell Peel in the latest “Cow/Calf Corner,” a newsletter to Extension agents.

Peel wrote of China’s beef production issues and potential last week and this week tackles his impressions of the country’s beef demand potential after a recent trip to China.

He said total 2018 beef consumption was estimated at 8.5 million tonnes, yet per capita consumption was about 9.4 pounds on a retail basis.  This was 16% of projected 2018 US per capita retail beef consumption of 57.7 pounds.

In China, beef consumption is about 11% of total meat consumption behind poultry (15%) and pork, which is hugely popular and represents 74% of total meat consumption, Peel said.  These numbers, however, do not include fish and seafood, which is very popular in China.




Beef consumption in China may be low, but it is rising, Peel said.

Despite being a major beef producing and consuming country for many years, China never participated much in global beef markets until recently, he said.  Since 2014, beef consumption has outstripped domestic production, and Chinese beef imports have risen sharply.

By 2016, China exceeded Japan as the number two beef importing country behind the US, Peel said.  Chinese beef imports in 2018 were projected to be just 13% smaller than US beef imports.  At the current pace, China could be the largest beef importing country in the world in another year or two.

Currently, more than 95% of Chinese beef imports come from Brazil, Uruguay, Australia, New Zealand and Argentina.  US beef exports to China resumed in 2017 after a nearly 14-year absence and are developing very slowly, Peel said.  In the past 12 months, US beef exports to China amounted to 0.6% of total US beef exports.




Beyond the obstacles stemming from the current trade war, building markets for US beef in China will face several challenges, Peel said.  Price is one of these challenges.

Beef is expensive in China relative to other meats, even more so than in the US, he said.  There is growing demand from an expanding middle class, but beef remains expensive for many, especially US beef.

But a bigger challenge for US beef is its role in Chinese cuisine, Peel said.  Chinese cuisine is characterized by hot pot, stir fry dishes and Chinese barbeque that use small amounts of beef in pieces of thinly sliced rather than large cuts of beef.

Beef offals are very popular and more affordable for many Chinese consumers, he said.

One exception was in Muslim sections where beef is popular in place of pork, Peel said.

China still is not a land of steakhouses, although western-style steak restaurants and business hotel demand is small but expanding.

For many Chinese, beef muscle cuts are an infrequent part of the diet.




No cattle sold Wednesday on the Livestock Exchange Video Auction.  One pen sold the previous Wednesday at $112 per cwt.

Cash cattle traded last week at $112 per cwt on a live basis, steady to down $1 from the previous week.  Cattle traded on a dressed basis at $176 to $178 per cwt, down $2.

The USDA choice cutout Monday was down $0.42 per cwt at $204.72, while select was off $0.29 at $197.98.  The choice/select spread narrowed to $6.74 from $6.87 with 65 loads of fabricated product sold into the spot market.

The CME Feeder Cattle index for the seven days ended Friday, was $149.20 per cwt, down $0.37.  This compares with Monday’s Aug settlement of $151.50, down $0.80.