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What License Do you Need to Start Food Business in China

by Angel Ho | 21 April 2023

Consider running your food operation in China and enjoy the benefits of the great food market. Applying for food operation licenses is "first-thing-first"! Let's take a look at the license you may need to apply for China food market admission.

China’s food and beverage market is growing fast and is considered to be the biggest contributor to global food revenue.

For public safety and supervision purposes, the Chinese government requires any person or institution who wishes to engage in the food industry to apply for related licenses, such as the Food Production License and Food Operation License, which are the most important in the food industry. For operators focusing on pre-packed food sales, only filing/recordation is needed before running your business.

Got the ambition to run your food business in China? See where you are inside the industry and what you need for Chinese food market admission.



food industry category


  1. For Food Manufacturers: Business License + Food Production License

To start and establish a food-producing factory in China, you need to follow various steps. First, you need to register your food company as a production enterprise in the form of a WFOE or joint venture in China for your business registration license. Meanwhile, as you are planning to run a business as a producing enterprise, you also need to obtain Food Production License. Based on your factory scale, you may also need to apply for Hygiene License and Business Fire Safety License according to the regulations of local administrative departments.


  1. For Catering service operators: Business License + Food Operation License

Running a restaurant in China can be a real challenge, followed with amazing potential paybacks. The same as building a factory, an operating company needs to be set up and registered as the legal entity of your restaurant, followed by the Food Operation License for public supervision and management.

As bottled alcohol is categorized as pre-packed food, an alcohol license is not needed. However, an additional alcohol permit will be compulsory if you consider craft beer as a selling point in your restaurant.


  1. For chain restaurant operators: Business License

Franchising operation, which is also known as a contract franchise chain, refers to the operation form that the owning enterprises of products, services, or business systems (the franchiser) grant the right of operating to the assigned operators (the franchisee). Chain operation is a trend of modern catering enterprises development, determined by the actual situation of the enterprises.

The franchiser should obtain Business License in the first stage and may be required to apply for Food Operation License and Food Producing License based on business models. The franchisee, on the other hand, should always obtain Business License and Food Operation License.


  1. For Import Food Trader and Retailer: Business License + Import/Export Qualification

A company engaging in import food trades must obtain qualifications of importing and it should also cover selling pre-packed food in its business license scope. You should first apply for your Business License. In addition to your Business License, an import/export qualification must be obtained from the local customs department. A Chinese label application should also be submitted to Chinese customs accordingly. Packing lists, contract, certificate of origin, health certificate, production date certificate, and other proof materials should also be prepared according to the regulation of customs. A certificate will be approved by the China Inspection and Quarantine Bureau once your products pass sampling inspection.


  1. For Food Trader focusing on mere pre-packed food: Business License + Filing/Recordation

From 29th April 2021, selling pre-packed food will only need to complete filing and recordation. Food distributors engaging in the mere sale of pre-packed food (including health food, food for special medical purposes, infant and baby formula milk powder, and other infant and baby formula food) would not be required to apply for Food Operation License. You can start pre-packed food business activities when filing and recordation is completed. Only the Production License of the food manufacturer and purchase contract are needed to sell your products. Alcohols and bottled beverages are also included in the pre-packed food category.



As China continuously seeks to optimize business environment and to better service market participants, a serious of policies to simplify the approval of and conditions for the enterprises’ production and operation were released. This is truly good news for you if you get the ambition to play your part in food industry in China by taking the benefits of convenient process and fast approval of license.

If you have any question about the process, materials or licenses to start your food business in China, please do not hesitate to book a free meeting with one of Hongda’s consultants to discuss your food operation plan.


For Your Reference



1. Business License

You need to firstly establish a Chinese company as the main running entity of the food business. It’s a great idea to set up your WFOE for an independent operation in China as well as other benefits and advantages that you may enjoy.

Besides, you may also choose to register a joint venture if you have a Chinese business partner to work with to gain early and fast access to the Chinese market.


2. Food Production License

Food Production License

As its name suggests, Food Production License is issued to food producers as the approval of meeting the general local or national food safety standards, according to regulation of the State Administration for Market Regulation (in Chinese). It is also known as the SC License which is the replacement of previous QS License. Licensing of the production of health food, food for special medical purposes, infant and baby formula food is under the regulation of authorities of province, autonomous region or municipality level. The validity period of Food Producing License is 5 years and an application of extension should be submitted 30 working days prior to the expiry date.


3. Food Operation License

Food Operation License

The regulation of Food Operation License (in Chinese), which is the integration of Food Circulation License and Catering Service License, came into effect in October 2015. It is issued by food and drug supervision and management departments to food operators in food sales or catering services. The Food Operation License would be issued at the date when an administrative licensing decision is made, with a validity period of 5 years.


4. Filing and Recordation

From 29th April 2021, selling pre-packed food will only need to complete food operation filing and recordation instead of license application, according to the notice of the State Administration of Market Regulation (in Chinese). Food distributors engaging in mere sale of pre-packed food (including health food, food for special medical purpose, infant and baby formula milk powder, and other infant and baby formula food) would not be required to apply for Food Operation License. You can start pre-packed food business activities when filing and recordation is completed.


Still not sure about the qualifications, application materials and process before running your food business in China? Book a free meeting with Hongda's expert for a customized, budget-saving plan today!


Hongda 2023 WFOE checklist

Topics: WFOE, Doing Business in China

Angel Ho

Angel Ho

Helping make China companies easy for foreign investors since 2007 as lead consult.



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