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Light meals with low calories, low fat and high fiber have become increasingly popular on Chinese dining tables as consumers become more health-conscious.

The total market value of Chinese meal replacement products is expected to hit 120 billion yuan ($17.4 billion) by 2022, estimated Euromonitor International, a global market consultancy.

Behind the rapid growth of the meal replacement market is the transformation of Chinese people's eating concepts. A white paper titled "Food Security in China”, released in 2019, showed that compared with 1996, China's per capita direct consumption of grains decreased, while that of food of animal origin, arbor foodstuffs and non-grain food including vegetables and fruits increased.

The rising number of eateries where light meals are offered are a good reflection of the popularity of this kind of food. In addition to light food-themed restaurants situated in first or second-tier cities, those from fourth-and fifth-tier cities are also springing up. University canteens such as those in the Southwestern University of Finance and Economics, Yunnan University and Changchun University of Chinese Medicine have also set up special windows providing light meals.

The popularity of light meals has reflected Chinese people's pursuit of health, even though a truly healthy lifestyle focuses more on a balanced diet and regular exercise, said Li Yun, a professor at Sichuan University and also an expert with the National Health Commission of China.

Wang Yi, a professor with the Southwestern University of Finance and Economics, echoed this view. "Light meals represent a change in public consumption patterns resulting from the pursuit of health. At present, both traditional catering enterprises and businesses that focus on producing meal replacements are looking to maximize the market potential."

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