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In the last year we’ve seen a growing number of Startups and SME’s, primarily in the US, importing cookware, kitchenware and other food contact materials – many of which are present on Amazon.com. We thought it was just about time to cover this segment in its very own product guide.
In this week’s article, we explain everything you need to know to find the right manufacturer, and why compliance with European and American food contact material regulations cannot be taken for granted, when sourcing in China.
Manufacturing clusters in China
Kitchen utensils is not a uniform category of products, and therefore production is not concentrated in a specific city, region or province. That said, there are locations of interest for importers of cookware, kitchenware, and other food contact materials, in the following Chinese cities:
Yangjiang, Guangdong: Knives and Stainless steel cookware
Jiangmen, Guangdong: Stainless steel cookware
Chaozhou, Guangdong: Stainless steel cookware
Dongguan, Guangdong: Silicon, rubber and plastic kitchenware
Jieyang, Guangdong: Cutlery
Ningbo, Zhejiang: Stainless steel cookware
Taizhou, Zhejiang: Silicon, rubber and plastic kitchenware
Yiwu, Zhejiang: Plastic culture
Yongkang, Zhejiang: Metal cookware
Xuzhou, Jiangsu: Glassware
Shijiazhuang, Hebei: Cast iron cookware
As you can see in the list above, most cookware and kitchenware manufacturers are based in the eastern provinces of Guangdong, Zhejiang and Jiangsu. Yet, this is a brief overview. Do your research before jumping on the next flight to Hong Kong, or Shanghai.
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Most, if not all, of our clients importing cookware and kitchen products, do so with their own brand. The most popular option is to brand an existing factory design (ODM), rather than developing a new product from scratch. As stated in the table below, OEM product development requires considerably more resources, than branding an existing product. While a factory design is not equal to an off shelf product, it does indeed save plenty of time to utilize a ready made product specification.
Dev. time (d)
15 – 30
60 – 120
500 – 1000
500 – 1000
1000 – 2000
Product customization also results in increased tooling costs, the largest of which tend to be the cost of the injection mold/s. In addition, the production time of the mold itself, especially for metal products, can easily take up to two months. Unless you really need a custom designed product, I’d advise you to go ODM instead.
Food contact materials are regulated, to a varying extent, in most markets – especially the United States and the European Union. To most purchasers and business owners in the industry, this may not come as a surprise. However, there are a few things you need to be aware of before wiring a deposit payment:
1. Compliance with American and European food contact materials is not to be taken for granted. In fact, it’s the exception, rather than the rule. For this reason, you need to verify that the supplier has a solid compliance track record.
2. Wholesale products tend to, primarily, be manufactured for the Chinese market. As such, compliance with foreign regulations (e.g. 21 CFR) is not taken into consideration. China does indeed have its own set of regulations, applicable to food contact materials. Yet, these may not be equal to the regulations in your country.
3. Kitchenware manufacturers with a strong compliance track record may not be the cheapest suppliers on the market. That said, there’s nothing more costly than a forced recall.
4. A substance test report, for example, is only proving that a sample, from a specific batch, passed compliance testing. While such a document is indeed an indication of ‘previous compliance’, it’s not a valid reason for neglecting compliance testing on the batch/es imported by your company. In fact, batch testing may even be required – if not by law – then by your retailers.
Clearly, different markets have their own set of regulations. Therefore, you must first confirm which regulations apply to kitchenware and cookware in your country, before making a supplier selection. There are also different regulations that apply to specific types of cookware, and food contact materials.
In the European Union, Member States are free to set their own food contact regulations, some of which specifically target stainless steel products. As such, the landscape is somewhat fragmented. France, for example, requires stainless steel cookware to contain at least 13% chromium, while Italy has a list of stainless steel grades. Additionally, there are also release limits, for metals, alloys or coating that may cause harm to either human health, or the environment.
Other frameworks and regulations apply specifically for plastic and ceramic food contact materials. Furthermore, there are also regulations and directives applicable to certain products, such as Coffee percolators and Catering equipment.
Importers of Stainless steel cookware in the US, must adhere to regulations administered by the FDA. There are also, voluntary, standards developed by the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) – more specifically AISI.304 and AISI.316. As in the EU, regulations are not only applicable to the base material itself, but also to substances found in coatings.
Cookware and kitchenware for Commercial use (e.g., Restaurants) are treated differently, as compared to products for domestic usage. Similar differences exist for food contact materials intended for repeated use (e.g., a frying pan), compared to single use products (e.g., food packaging).
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical used in industrial manufacturing processes of various plastics, especially transparent plastic packaging. As of today, the United States, the European Union and Canada have banned BPA use in baby bottles, but no such ban is in place for BPA use in cookware, kitchenware and other food contact materials. In 2013, an assessment by the FDA deemed BPA to be safe at the, current, low levels in food contact materials:
FDA’s current perspective, based on its most recent safety assessment, is that BPA is safe at the current levels occurring in foods. Based on FDA’s ongoing safety review of scientific evidence, the available information continues to support the safety of BPA for the currently approved uses in food containers and packaging. Click here to read more.
However, consumers in the mentioned markets are remain wary of BPA content in plastic food contact materials, which in turn has driven, at least American and European, manufacturers to gradually phase out the chemical.
What is somewhat ironic is that Chinese manufacturers are much more keen to advertise their produce as ‘BPA Free’, while neglecting actual food contact material regulations in their target markets. The trend is also similar on Amazon.com, where sellers proudly advertise their products as such. This is leading many importers to assume that their items are compliant if they are only rid of BPA – which in contrast to many other substances, is not even required by law to begin with. Don’t get me wrong though. Phasing out chemicals is never a bad thing, but this may just not be the first thing you and your team should look at.
As explained above, importers must ensure compliance with all applicable food contact material regulations. Moreover, EMC (e.g., FCC Part 15 and the EU EMC Directive) and children’s product regulations (e.g., CPSIA) may also apply, depending on the type of product, and its intended usage.
Relevant Trade Fairs in Mainland China and Hong Kong
Co-founder of Asiaimportal (HK) Limited and based in Hong Kong. He has been quoted in and contributed to Bloomberg, SCMP, Alibaba Insights, Globalsources.com, China Chief Executive, Quartz Magazine and more.
Hey there, I’m Fredrik!
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