The Global Agricultural Information Network and USDA report released last week said China's confectionery market has been growing for the past five years, a trend that is expected to continue into the future. The greatest potential markets are within speciality candy and within functional confectionery, and particularly strong within East China. Forty per cent of total candy sales are for occasional gifts such as Christmas, weddings and the Spring Festival, the report said. "With an estimated 20 million couples getting married each year in China, if each couple purchased $63 (€46) in candies and chocolate for gift giving, it would add up to a $1.3bn (€0.9bn) market in this particular category alone," the USDA said. The peak sales period for chocolate products is from November to the Chinese New Year in February, after which most importers stop importing chocolate products due to the high costs and low demand. The report also noted consumers are demanding functional confectionery products, particularly due to the rise in diabetes, "thought to be an unfortunate consequence of the higher incomes that have changed people's standards of living and especially their diets". Vitamins, nuts and herbal ingredients within products meet the energy and nutritional demands of the consumers, according to the report. However, salty flavouring has been added to various imported products to make them less sweet tasting, as the Chinese consumers generally prefer less sweet and milky-flavoured confectionery, it said. Products imported from Europe, Japan and Korea are the most popular within China. Consumers believe European products represent a higher quality of life, particularly from Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, Germany and France. Products from Japan and Korea are popular due to their similar tastes to Chinese confectionery and similarly packaged items. The Chinese generally prefer small, convenient and elegant packaging containing only one or two candies. The two main consumer groups for confectionery products are weight conscious women and parents who are conscious of their children's confectionery intake, ultimately looking for smaller portions. US products are generally not so popular due to its shorter shelf-life than European confectionery and the higher sugar content. The report added that the output value of sugar and confectionery products surpassed $3.8bn (€2.8bn) in 2005.