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Measures to bolster catering sector

Policy to help industry facing various challenges as it recovers from epidemic

By XU WEI | China Daily | Updated: 2024-04-11 09:23
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The central government has outlined a raft of measures to bolster the high-quality development of China's catering sector, pledging to further enhance food safety, improve the skills of industry professionals and help more Chinese restaurants explore the international market.

In a policy document published on March 28, the Ministry of Commerce and eight other departments highlighted the need to further improve the quality of catering services, optimize the business climate and spur consumer spending in the sector.

Key measures include improving food safety levels in the industry through enhanced monitoring of the use of ingredients and of supply chains.

Catering businesses will be encouraged to disclose their ingredients and cooking methods in the catering process, with special actions to be taken to reduce the use of food additives.

He Yadong, a spokesman with the Ministry of Commerce, said in a news briefing on March 28 that enhancing the high-quality development of the catering sector is a key step in efforts to boost consumption, improve public well-being and stabilize the job market.

He explained that the revenue from the catering sector now accounts for more than 10 percent of China's total retail sales, and the number of catering businesses has exceeded 10 million.

The latest measures follow the sector's robust recovery last year from the downturn induced by the COVID-19 epidemic, with the total revenue for related businesses hitting a historical high of 5.29 trillion yuan ($731.3 billion) last year, up 13.2 percent from pre-epidemic levels.

Among the nearly 15.73 million catering enterprises across the country, more than 4.1 million were newly registered in 2023, with private firms accounting for over 80 percent, industry data shows.

However, officials have said new policy measures supporting the high-quality development of the sector are urgently needed as the sector is confronted with multiple challenges.

Yang Liu, president of the China Cuisine Association, said the rising costs of rent, labor and raw materials are among the most pressing issues for businesses.

Meanwhile, a lack of progress in digital transformation, competition among businesses and a shortage of talent are also constraining the growth of the catering sector.

"Some catering enterprises choose to imitate models of their competitors instead of investing resources in innovation and developing new products," she said.

A recent survey conducted by Yang's association found that 55 percent of catering businesses were faced with a shortage of workers, while 28 percent reported an extreme shortage.

"Moreover, there is an even greater scarcity of skilled professionals in the catering industry, with young talent unwilling to find jobs in the sector and high-caliber talent flowing to other sectors," she said.

Liu Tao, a researcher with the institute of market economy at the Development Research Center of the State Council, China's Cabinet, said the latest policy document has come up with tailored measures to help catering businesses solve the challenges troubling them most, especially the labor shortage.

One of the most important solutions, he said, is to encourage local authorities to support catering businesses in their digital transformation and greater use of automated facilities.

He explained that the sector's high-quality growth should be underpinned by stronger efforts to diversify the industrial structure, improve the efficiency of operations and strengthen the quality of services.

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