A report released yesterday by market research firm A C Nielsen has shown that despite a huge supermarket investment in promoting fresh produce; shoppers in China are still buying their fresh food from traditional (wet) markets.

A "Homescan" survey of 1000 households counted less than 25% of people who buy some of their fresh fruit and vegetable, meat or fish from retail chains ParknShop and Wellcome, with only 4% and 3% shopping exclusively for fresh food at the supermarkets, respectively.

Since 1998, Wellcome has invested over US$400m in a new fresh food centre to ensure hygiene and quality, and during a similar time scale, the ParknShop chain has invested US$50m in promoting fresh produce. Still, it seems; shoppers are showing little loyalty to supermarkets.

Indeed, director of the survey, Fanny Chan Ying-fong, explained that: "Wet markets have been so popular for so many years ... so currently the supermarkets cannot really compete with them. It's because wet markets always give people the impression that they're the cheapest, they're fresh and there's more variety. The other reason is that in a wet market people normally can buy whatever amount they want - like US$5 of pork or US$2 of veggies. At the supermarket normally it's fixed in terms of quantity."

This does not surprise Andrew Brent, of ParknShop, who said: "We're still very small players (in fresh food sales) and we don't expect that's going to change for a long time. Our approach is to take a long-term view. If we can be the people providing safe and hygienic food, more people will choose to shop with us, but it will be a long haul."

Doug Brown, MD of Wellcome, remained optimistic that his sector's share of the fresh food market was growing, however: "We know that the wet markets pick up the bulk of the trade, but if you look at the demographics you can clearly see the younger the person, the more they shop at a supermarket and the older, low-income group would shop at a wet market."