In January 2013, Bloomberg reported that Beijing’s pollution was worse than the average US airport smoking lounge. The study was one of the most polarising accounts of the severity of China’s pollution at the time.
By 2014, the Chinese Government, state organisations and consumers were talking much more openly about the problem. State organisations such as the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, published statements claiming that Beijing was “uninhabitable for human beings” and the China Agricultural University suggested that China would suffer conditions “somewhat similar to a nuclear winter” if smog persisted. Consumers became more aware that the soupy mist wasn’t fog, but a toxic vapour that could harm their health.
Sales growth of products such as air purifiers, face masks and even canned air soared into triple figures. China Skinny started noticing a wholesale movement of consumers seeking healthier products, of which pollution was a strong contributor.
In addition to the obvious effects of pollution such as lung cancer, asthma and other respiratory diseases, there have been a number of other harrowing side effects such as increased obesity, Alzheimers and lower sperm counts. A recent study found bacteria in Beijing smog can lead to antibiotic resistance. Gulp.
Whilst China’s water and soil pollution continues to worsen, the result of Government policy and enforcement and slowing manufacturing, energy and construction sectors has seen air pollution improve slowly since 2014 – it’s gone from really, really, really hideously bad, to just really, really hideously bad.
So what does this mean for brands selling to Chinese consumers? With every new study revealing something evil about China’s pollution, it provides more emphasis on being proactively healthy – growing consumption of supplements and vitamins, healthy food grown in clean environments, and sports and fitness products. Tourism is also a beneficiary, where Chinese choose clean spots over polluted domestic destinations to enjoy their free time. Parents see overseas education institutions more attractive and migration increases – and foreign real estate sales as a consequence.
For those pinning their hopes on a positioning strategy revolving around ‘clean and green’ to lure Chinese consumers, there are a million other brands doing the same. Whilst it is important, you probably want to include other points of difference as well – China Skinny can assist with that. Go to Page 2 to see this week’s China news and highlights.