In 2013, the core outdoor market in China grew by 16.2 percent to 15.38 billion yuan renminbi (€1.82bn-$2.48bn). This is one of the many interesting findings of an annual market research project commissioned by the China Outdoor Association (COA) and the organizer of the Asia Outdoor trade show, which will take place in Nanjing from July 23-26.

The researchers make a distinction between the core outdoor market; and the wider market including general sports brands that offer a range of outdoor products, as well as other brands and retailers that do not primarily focus on the sports and outdoor industry. The wider market was estimated to have reached RMB 36.8 billion (€4.36bn-$5.93bn) at retail prices, amounting to an increase of 12.9 percent.

Somewhat reassuringly, after the huge increase in the number of Chinese outdoor stores in 2012, retail sales last year increased faster than the number of points of sale, which went up by 11.9 percent to 12,420 units. The number of mono-brand outdoor stores jumped by 14.7 percent to 8,742, while the number of multi-brand stores advanced by just over 5.7 percent to 3,678 outlets.

About 53 percent of the sales in the core outdoor market came from outdoor apparel, compared with 24 percent for footwear, 12 percent for backpacks and 11 percent for other products. The number of brands available on the market continues to rise, up by 10.8 percent to 409 for foreign brands and by 14.5 percent to 284 for Chinese brands.

The research of the COA/German Messe is somewhat complicated by the structure of the Chinese outdoor retail market, where many brands do not make a clear distinction between their wholesale and retail sales. The market shares suggested by the report may therefore not be precisely accurate but they still provide a very clear indication of the market's structure and dynamics.

The report estimates that the core market of nearly RMB15.4 billion (€1.8bn-$2.5bn) represents about 41.9 percent of the wider outdoor market. That means an increase by 1.4 percentage points for the core market as a percentage of the entire business compared with 2012. Online sales of outdoor products in this market were estimated at about RMB 3 billion (€0.4bn-$0.5bn).

The share of the general sports brands in the outdoor market remained roughly stable. The brands in question include global players such as Adidas along with Chinese sports brands like Li-Ning and Anta, and more fashion-oriented brands like Kappa. They jointly claim a share of 13.9 percent in the wider Chinese outdoor market, down slightly from 14.1 percent in the previous year. Their turnover with outdoor products is estimated at RMB5.1 billion (€0.6bn-$0.8bn), amounting to 5.8 percent of their total sales. The tally includes sales of RMB1.4 billion (€0.1bn$0.2bn)through online sales channels.

The report indicates that fashion and leisure brands saw their sales of outdoor-related products decline last year as a percentage of the wider outdoor market. Brands such as Uniqlo, Jeep and Camel reached estimated retail sales worth RMB7.3 billion (€0.9bn-$1.2bn) with “outdoor” ranges last year. This amounts to 19.7 percent of the wider Chinese outdoor market, down from 19.9 percent in 2012.

Price-driven retailers and supermarkets were estimated to have netted sales of RMB9 billion (€1.1bn-$1.5bn) with outdoor-related products. This amounted to a share of 24.5 percent of the wider outdoor market in 2013, down from 25.5 percent the previous year. It encompasses large-scale retailers such as Carrefour, Metro and Wal-Mart – as well as Décathlon. The COA report estimates the share of the French-based retailer at just 4 percent of the wider Chinese outdoor market (excluding bicycles), amounting to RMB1.5 billion (€0.17bn-$0.24bn).

At Asia Outdoor, the six member companies of COA are launching an initiative for cleaner air as the basis for healthy outdoor activities. They are going to put out a black T-shirt, each with their logo, the words “I need fresh air” and the provocative image of a gas mask. To start with, the companies will sell or just give away some 1,000 shirts each. The campaign may be expanded later on, depending on the reaction to the initiative.

Click HERE to view the charts.

(More on the Chinese outdoor market in our comprehensive research report on the Chinese sports and outdoor market, to be released in the autumn).