The current situation and challenges of China’s tableware industry

From Cynthia Wang

“One of the challenges that the tableware industry faces right now is innovation. Exploring creativity requires money, time, and some luck, and this is far less stable than the revenue brought by continuing to do the original style,” said Mr. Chen, who is working for a tableware foreign trade company.

Tableware refers to metal utensils, ceramic, tea, wine utensils, glassware, paper utensils, plastic utensils, and some different uses of various container-type tools (such as bowls, plates, cups, pots, etc.), hand-held utensils (such as chopsticks, knives, forks, spoons, straws, sticks, etc.) [1]

China is a large producer and consumer of tableware.

In recent years, the total output value of China’s tableware and kitchenware industry has grown in a stable trend. In 2017, the total output value of China’s tableware and kitchenware industry reached 621.37 billion yuan. As of 2017, when Northern China had a population of 115.44 million people, the market demand for tableware and kitchenware in that area exceeded 80 billion yuan. [2]

China’s tableware industry market size is large, and the distribution is mainly divided into domestic trade and foreign trade.

As people’s living standards improve, their demand for tableware increases.  China’s tableware market size reached 216.75 billion yuan in 2018, reached 226.21 billion yuan in 2019, showing a 4.36% rise, and continued to grow by 6.1% after reaching 240 billion yuan in 2020. [3]

Market Scale of China’s Tableware Industry from 2015 to 2020

Source The sponsor of the economist

The current situation of foreign trade

For foreign trade, glass, ceramic, and stainless-steel tableware are the main export categories.

Among them, China is more famous for its porcelain tableware, which has become the world’s largest producer of porcelain tableware.

China produces at least 50% of the global market of ceramics, and exports to nearly 200 countries in the world. Also, the annual production and export value of China is the world’s first—cross-country ceramic company more than 1900, and the global total output value is more than 210 billion. 【5】

Nowadays, the export of Chinese tableware products covers all countries and regions on all continents

“Now I mainly work in Europe, the United States, North Africa, and the Middle East’s foreign trade market. These markets have different preferences for tableware. The European and American markets tend to prefer high-end products, North Africa to take the least expensive one, the Middle East to take the least expensive and a small part of the middle.” Mr. Chen said.

The foreign trade market requirements of different countries are varying.

For example, in the United States, like Wal-Mart, Gibson and other large buyers can often provide a large order, but the factory requirements are relatively high; in Europe, such as IKEA, the inspection of the factory and quality of products are very strict. 【11】

“European and American customers have higher quality requirements and care about the novelty and timeliness of tableware styles. ” Mr. Chen said.

“Customers in the Middle East and North Africa have low-quality requirements and usually don’t care too much about quality and mainly consider cost-effectiveness.” Mr. Chen said.

From the point of view of consumption habits, the European and American markets are updated quickly and have high-quality requirements; at the same time, Japan’s requirement for quality is also high.

” European and American families like to buy sets of tableware, but they usually do not replace the old sets because of the damage(broken), they may buy a new set only because they think the color and texture are out of date.” Mr. Chen said

“German customers also demand high quality, they usually require the surface of the stainless tool to be polished as bright as a mirror.” Mr. Chen said

For Japan, the type of material they like is also special—- they usually use white clean porcelain clean with a touch of bone, the price of this material is generally higher than ordinary porcelain and also more resistant to high temperatures.

[Bone China (left)/Ceramic (right)] Source: Yadao’s porcelain

 ” The highest bidder among all customers now is Japanese. Because they particularly care about quality and not concerned about high prices mostly.”Mr.Chen said.

Besides, “Europe, the US, and Japan generally have a single seasonal best-selling product, for example, the products they are wholesale now (August) will probably only be sold until the Spring Festival. After that, they will order brand new tableware with new designs and new fashion colors.” Mr. Chen said.

This needs higher demand for Chinese manufacturers, but easier to build long-term corporate relationships.

“For the customers who need to update their products frequently and have a lot of requirements, it’s hard to find a guaranteed partner, and not all companies can meet their high standards. Therefore, once we get a customer like this, it means we can have long-term stable cooperation with him.” Mr. Chen said.

The African and Middle East markets are mainly based on affordable products, which are price sensitive and have a shorter cooperation period.

” North Africa and the Middle East, including customers from India tend to buy low price products. Perhaps, this time our company gave a low price to get a chance to corporate with them, but the next time they may be switch suppliers if others were given a lower price. Hence, they are relatively not stable as the high-end customer. It” Mr. Chen said.

     The current situation of domestic trade

In China’s domestic trade, tableware categories is more detailed. There are three main categories of domestic tableware: earthenware, porcelain, and glass.

Earthenware is mainly made of clay and used for teapots. It is suitable for those who like to sip tea and care about the taste of life; its market price span is larger.

Porcelain is divided into white porcelain, reinforced porcelain, and bone porcelain. White porcelain is the least expensive tableware and very common, but it is relatively easy to break. It is suitable for families, and its market price is low.

Reinforced porcelain is middle-end tableware, containing magnesium composition, high strength, non-toxic, and not easy to damage. It is the ideal tableware for most families, and the market price is moderate in comparison to the other forms of tableware.

Bone porcelain is high-end tableware, and the quality standards is more stringent— it requires at least 30% of the tricalcium phosphate from animal bones. This type of porcelain has light transmission, hard texture, and smooth glaze. It is a good choice for family parties and hotels, as its market price is generally high.

The surface of glass products is clear since it same as crystal, but it is easy to break. It is mainly used in a variety of cups, and the market price is cheap.【7】

Merchants, prefer to choose a combination of online and offline sales.

“The location of the offline store is important. Generally, merchants will choose places with a high population, so the merchant can attract the attention of customers.” Ms. Ma, who has been operating offline tableware for many years, said.

“When it comes to online sales, we first have to do page construction in the platform. When we gradually get some consumers, we will analyze our products through the data, to see do we reach our expectations or not and whether should we make any adjustments.” Ms. Yu, who is engaged in the online tableware industry, said.

” After I have determined that the product has a strong correspondence with my target customer through data and adjusting the product according to the result of analysis, I will find a way to get more network flow. First of all, I might pay for the platform so my merchandise will appear on more people’s home pages. placement mechanism on the platform to place traffic according to the target group, I can also get good reviews consistently to punch some listings that fit for my audience group.” Ms. Yu said.

Since the pandemic has greatly impacted consumers’      disposable income, most people are prone to selecting cost-effective tableware.

China’s per capita disposable income growth rate has also been decreasing every year: from 7.3% in 2017 to 2.1% in 2020. [8].

China’s per capita disposable income and growth rate from 2016 to 2020

SourceXinLang Economy

The survey “2021 New Youth Fashion Consumption Trends Development Report”, revealed that youth primarily shop online. Recently, the new commerce platform PinDuoDuo, which has gathered a lot of lower-price products, has become their first choice. 

On the other hand, consumer requirements are constantly improving and are starting to shift from practicality to a combination of utility and decoration. This requires sellers to constantly iterate and innovate.

Lower consumption levels usually do not mean lower requirements, as consumers are still eager to buy affordable, practical, and decorative tableware. Such market demands have prompted tableware merchants to continue to innovate and improve.

“Our casserole is not cracked on dry-fired more than 800 degrees, there is also an upgraded version of 1100 degrees that does not crack. Other pots may burst only because people add a little cold water in the middle.” Ms. Ma said.

Source: Ms.Ma’s online store

“For appearance, ordinary ceramics may have small black spots on the surface after glazing, but our tableware has a very delicate appearance.” Ms. Ma said.


Overall, for both foreign and domestic sales of China’s tableware, this industry is currently facing the following challenges:

First, is the lack of product innovation.

Lack of innovation awareness can lead to product homogenization.

“There are usually many stores selling the same style. This is because when a large number of non-original merchants see the potential of a new product, they will make slight modifications such as changing the pattern of two flowers to three flowers and then quickly producing similar imitation products. They usually reduce the quality of the way to press the price to attract more customers. Later on, the original merchant might also begin to imitate others’ designs after they realize the difficulty of innovation. Consequently, this phenomenon leading to less fresh ideas throughout the tableware market homogenization is becoming more common.” Ms.Yu said

However, the cost of innovation is very hard, because every existing link of that containing inevitable problems, and the benefits are unstable—–this further raises the threshold of innovation.

“It takes money to find a designer and to open a mold. The goods might not be sold successfully after they have been made, hence, the capital will not be able to return, and we also bear the cost of the warehouse.” Ms. Yu said.

Besides, Mr. Chen said innovation also has potential risks. The design is a high-level secret, but once others copy the merchandise, the original creator can only apply for a license of selling from a plagiarist.

Even if a suitable product is developed and patented in time, it does not mean that the creator can monopolize the market and gain stable income in the long run.

Secondly, it is increasingly difficult to develop low-priced products.

“Sometimes businesses will sell goods at a low price to attract attention. But this can only attract people who want cheap products— they may amplify the shortcomings to request lower prices after they get the products. For example, they may ask to return the product because of a little unavoidable defect and let the merchant afford all the shipping costs.” Ms. Ma said

Finally, the threshold for creating high-end brands is high and difficult for most merchants, resulting in meager profits.

“First of all, you have to make sure the quality is good. Second, all aspects have to keep up: after-sales service, brand image, and endorsements, so marketing costs can be high. None of the brands is high-end at the beginning, even Chanel and Hermes are also required to use nearly a century with countless money to pile up.” Ms. Yu said.

Future development

In the future, the global tableware industry will pay more attention to the design, material, and quality of the product.

“To design a more competitive juicer, the focus will usually be on versatility. For instance, to improve a product that originally could not be juiced a specific kind of fruit – usually requiring more precision as well as sharp internal gears – requires developers to put more thought and effort into the design. ” Mr. Chen said.

In addition, with the integration of Chinese and Western cultures and the development of national trends, tableware products with Chinese cultural elements will become increasingly popular with international consumers. 【13】

“There are also a lot of exports of casseroles to Western countries. Because overseas Chinese all over the world have the habit of cooking with casseroles, local people will be influenced by Chinese tableware and video culture in a subtle way. After that, they may try to use casseroles and maybe fall in love with Chinese food thus buying other Chinese tableware as well.” Ms. Ma said.

Besides, as the global demand for environmental tableware increases, tableware materials that are more environmentally protected and sustainable will develop rapidly.

There are many similar environmentally tableware, such as leaf tableware and starch tableware, etc. Although environmentally biodegradable tableware is currently expensive to produce, the field will grow rapidly as major manufacturers continue to improve it and try to make it meet people’s dining requirements- reducing production and disposal costs in the future. 【14】

Work Cited:















Pictures:!!1938805411,2029623707&fm=253&gp=0 CZ0001 CZ3457


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