China's imports of malting barley may jump by up to 50% this year as its brewing industry – the world's biggest – returns to higher consumption rates after a push into low-alcohol beers aimed at women drinkers.
The Canadian Wheat Board, one of the world's biggest sellers of the grain, has pegged China's malting barley imports at 1.6m-1.8m tonnes, compared with 1.2m tonnes last year.
The increase reflects a return to malting barley use keeping pace with beer production, after a period in which brewers favoured beers containing about 3% alcohol, which require less malting barley to manufacture than the conventional products, with alcohol levels of 4.0-4.3%.
Lower alcohol lines have proved particularly popular thanks to an increase in beer drinking among Chinese women, who prefer a "light taste", a report by analysis group Research and Markets said last week.
Bob Cuthbert, CWB's senior barley marketing manager, said, following a trip to China, that the move towards lower rates of malting barley consumption had "pretty much reached the limit".
Demand for the ingredient was now "expected to rise to keep up with increased beer production" which,according to China Business News, rose by 6% to 20.5m litres in the first half of last year.
Imports were being further encouraged by a weak Chinese malting barley harvest, with output falling by an estimated 22%.
The board said it expected Canada's malting barley sales to China to rise "significantly" from last year's 400,000 tonnes, with prospects also boosted by the poor quality of Australian production.
Australia's malting barley crop, typically a leading target for Chinese buyers, was damaged by late rains.
"The bottom line is we should be able to increase Canada's market share at values that are a good premium over feed [barley] values," the board said.