Despite this, the development of water products specifically formulated for babies remain scarce in the country, suggesting untapped opportunities given parental anxieties about what they feed their children.
“The development of baby waters in China remains nascent,” says market research firm Mintel, with relatively few brands embracing this positioning.
While online grocery retailers, such as yihaodian.com, have begun selling baby waters from foreign suppliers, with consumers now able to purchase imported bottled water marketed as suitable for infants and toddlers from Sant’ Anna, Dolomia, San Benedetto, Volvic, Evian and Fiji, there is very little local market activity.
“China is actually home to the world’s largest baby food market, which has reported impressive growth in recent years, and that is forecast to continue following the relaxation of the one-child policy. Importantly, the market is still dominated by powdered infant formula, which requires freshly boiled water to make a safe, sterilised feed,” said Mintel.
Ongoing scepticism about the quality and safety of tap water in China therefore suggests a huge potential market for brands to retail ‘pure’ bottled water designed for the preparation of baby food.
Indeed, such products are typically sold at 10-times the price of mainstream brands, suggesting that the baby water concept will not only expose brands to a large and receptive audience, but also have significant benefits for their bottom line.
One of the few local brand that has taken the plunge is China’s second largest bottled water brand Nongfu Spring.
“The natural drinking water is said to be suitable for both babies and toddlers, and like baby waters developed elsewhere globally, Nongfu Spring has highlighted its purity by focusing on natural provenance and sophisticated production techniques,” Mintel said.
The water is said to be sourced from a “resource protection district” in Paektu Mountain, and processed according to high temperature sterilization and aseptic packaging techniques.
“Nongfu Spring has also published a rigorous breakdown of the water’s various trace elements and minerals to illustrate that it has been formulated with babies’ health and hydration needs in mind.”
This is important because regular bottled water is not a viable alternative to polluted tap water, as it often contains too much sodium, sulphate and trace minerals for babies’ kidneys to process.
Mintel points out there is still considerable scope for new players to enter the market.
“As incomes rise further in China and pollution remains a national issue, similar products will have huge appeal, not only improving the safety of preparing infant formula, but also potentially making it faster and more hygienic.”
Indeed, according to the Ministry of Environmental Protection, 57.2% of groundwater monitoring points in 2015 had poor to very poor quality water, making them unfit for human exposure, while 36.9% of national surface water monitoring points were unsuitable for drinking water.
Watch: Danone and Mintel discuss APAC's latest infant nutrition trends and research in our 'Nutrition Asia' video series.