China, with its 1.3 billion population, is one of the world's largest consumers of food, chomping through 51 per cent of the world's pork, 33 per cent of rice and 19 per cent of ice cream.
And while most consumers still prefer to purchase fresh foods, there is a clear shift towards processed foods, throwing up untold opportunities for western food firms faced with saturated sales in home markets.
Official statistics report that the Chinese food processing industry grew a considerable 16 per cent between 2001-2002 and 23 per cent for 2002-2003.
"These numbers are staggering but many industry insiders feel that it is safer to assume double-digit growth in excess of 10 per cent," reports the US department of agriculture.
The president of the China Food Industry Association was recently quotedas expecting 10 to 12 per cent annual growth for the food processing sector.
Further, some estimates believe the output of the food industry by the year 2010 may double from that of the year 2000, when it was valued at about 800 billion RMB (€84billion).
Packaged foods, especially baked goods, dairy products, oils and fats, baby food and ice cream have all demonstrated "exceptional growth" in recent years, claims the report.
"In the upcoming years the industry will focus on the development of corn and wheat goods, dairy products, food additives and seasoning essentials," it continues.
Demands for imported poultry, cereals, fish, nuts, soybeans are expected to continue while Western food firms may find new markets in baking ingredients and fruit flavorings.
Good prospects include infant formula, baking ingredients (nuts, whey powder, flours), fruit flavourings, stabilisers as well as a range nuts and fruit, underlines the report.
The market for processed foods is particularly strong in urban areas where higher concentrations of wealth and busier lifestyles have led many to seek out more convenient alternatives to cooking with fresh ingredients.
Demands for healthier choices, convenience, variety and quality are opening the door to high quality imported ingredients.
Recent food poisoning incidents have also increased consumer concern over food safety and many are now looking towards big-name brands that they feel they can trust, says the report.
In many urban areas 40 per cent of food is processed, with much room for growth as demand is slated to increase.
China's population is 1.3 billion and growing by nearly 10 million people, or 0.57 per cent, annually.
China's per capita GDP is approximately $1,100 USD, and the economy, currently the sixth in the world, has been growing at a staggering 9 per cent annually.
In 2003 the value of all exports came in at $436.1 billion and the value of imports hit $397.4 billion. Major agricultural products include rice, wheat, potatoes, sorghum, peanuts, tea, millet, barley, cotton, oilseed, pork, and fish.