Andy Crawford
9 November 2021 0 Comments

This year, the China Skinny team attended the 4th Annual China International Import Expo (CIIE) in Shanghai. CIIE attracted 3,000 offline exhibitors from 127 countries comprising of Food and Agricultural Products, Automobiles, Intelligent Industry & Information Technology, Consumer Goods, Medical Equipment & Healthcare Products, and Trade in Services. Each sector was uniquely action-packed, and full of new and exciting products representing future trends. Given the sheer diversity of all this show offered, we will break down some larger trends that made this year’s CIIE uniquely its own.

Key takeaways from CIIE 2021:

– Sustainability: From hydrogen-based cars, plant-based foods, and smart city tech, many brands are providing consumers and businesses products that will help China go carbon neutral.

– Consumer Engagement: As a foreign brand in China, you have immense competition; booths that drew crowds tended to keep eventgoers actively involved through games, prize draws, virtual reality, and shows.

Key Themes of the Expo

Below the surface of the large, immaculately built displays, endless free samples, opera singers, and prize lotteries, the key theme across all sectors was sustainability. At a macro-level, each sector’s primary driver in the China market was sustainable practice and “future-proofing” our world. Take the F&B sector, which saw plant-based foods and oat milk shine through the crowed corridors. Chinese consumers have been among the fastest to adapt to oat milk with a 13.4% CAGR from 2021 to 2027 according to Allied Market Research. On the same note, China’s plant-based market is expected to reach $13 billion by 2023 according to Euromonitor.

Beauty products were also singing from the sustainable hymn sheet, with some brands holding talks about what consumers can do to help the dolphins, delivered on large presentation platforms. Other, less direct, beauty brands often connected loving one’s skin to loving and caring for the earth, again pushing the natural, sustainability factor of their products.

Plant based and sustainable skincare stands at CIIE

Left: F&B brand highlighting plant-based food. Right: Skincare brand hosting an event about how we can save sea creatures.

Tactics to lure in the crowds

Despite all of the talk of sustainability and the future, the 4th Annual CIIE was above all else, a push to build credibility and allure for products and services among distributers, government officials and consumers. Given the immense build and scale of this event, brands pushed their limits, designing and attracting visitors at all levels.

One of the most common tactics used at CIIE – and virtually all other Chinese trade shows – is livestreaming. Dedicated livestreaming sections are front and centre at many booths offering product discounts, educating viewers, and answering questions for anyone online. Livestreamers weren’t just for those who couldn’t attend the event; many people at the expo attended the livestreams in person to get their hands on product deals offered during the streams.

Photos of various brands' livestreaming booths

Photos of various brands’ livestreaming booths

Another tactic used to woo the masses, much like the China Skinny team witnessed in Design Shanghai, were the free products offed by both B2C and B2B brands. B2C brands offered a hand-on approach to their products with free foods, test samples, and small bottles or sachets of products. To obtain these products, people often queued behind dozens of people, then created a user profile on the brand’s WeChat mini program, just to receive a small gift.

For larger brands, like vacuums and appliances, visitors were encouraged to follow them on their social accounts and were then directed to make purchases on their Tmall pages for the Singles’ Day deal.

Many of B2B brands, such as cashed-up makers of silicon chips, offered free products like phone chargers, small games, or drinks to those (often distributors or businesses) in return for company information at their booths.

Queues at some popular stands at CIIE

Queues at some popular stands at CIIE

Among the brands which stood out the most and drew the biggest crowds were those with virtual reality (VR) and stage shows, offering a riveting experience for distributors and consumers alike.

Many automotive, tech, and game companies provided VR setups to experience their product.  One exhibitor was offering an immersive experience inside of their Hyperloop setup targeted at government officials to convince them of the need to build these in China. Another provided a VR experience on a motorcycle to emerse the user into their product.

For other brands, where VR didn’t quite capture the important smells and touch, large stage shows drew in the crowds. Cooking shows were popular for F&B brands to showcase the diversity or flavour of their products, cooked by professional chefs, and often livestreamed on their channels. Others stage shows helped to build a “country experience” such as having Italian opera singers perform on stage for their pasta.

VR experiences at CIIE

VR experiences at CIIE

Opera singer at CIIE

Left: Opera singer at CIIE. Right: Dole’s event stage.

It is safe to say, although the crowds were less than expected due to the travel restrictions from recent Covid outbreaks, CIIE still allowed brands to showcase their wares in innovative and engaging ways. For brands looking to make headway at next year’s CIIE or future China expos, keep visitor engagement at the top of your mind. With thousands of brands competiting for the attention of potential partners and clients, those who make a scene tend to draw the crowds.

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These were just a few of the larger observations made by the China Skinny team during this year’s CIIE. If you have any interest in any specific category or brands which attended this year, please feel free to reach out! To find out how we can assist you in market strategy or better prepare you for future events, get in touch!