Welcome to the final part of China Skinny’s Food and Beverage Trends in China series. Part 1 covered developments in China’s health trends, flavours and frozen products. Part 2 touched on the continued trend of premiumisation and packaging innovations. Today we’ll discuss some of the bigger changes we noticed.
SIAL brings together food and beverage products from the world over and this year saw more countries represented than in previous years. Not only did the number of countries represented grow but there was a strong presence from less well-known countries such as Slovenia and Estonia, who offered goods like crisps, puffed cheese and beer. Their eastern European fellow Russia took up a large section of the show exhibiting confectionery, condiments, wines, water and of course vodka. The increased interest in China is spurred by China’s growing consumer power but is also likely helped by the developments of China’s One Belt, One Road efforts.
The Guest County of Honor this year was Argentina, who showcased their meat and food options. Argentina’s presence was surrounded by other lively Central and South American countries such as Mexico, Belize, and Brazil. The diversity of countries represents the pull of Chinese consumers looking further afield for products and the growing interest in selling to Chinese consumers.
Local brands have been stepping up their branding efforts in the past few years. This can be seen in their design, packaging and products. Chinese consumers choose a brand or product for many reasons, not only country of origin. Domestic players are making efforts to understand their target consumer and are using emotive marketing to grab attention and hearts. They are quickly learning that this type of marketing goes much further than typical functional marketing. An example of this is a variety of spicy snack food (‘la tiao’) marketed by Weilong Food (卫龙食品). The brand’s social media presence uses an unexpectedly modern approach to connect with millennials, surprising their target consumers that the brand is so interesting. Overall, domestic brands are upping their game, but this doesn’t come without mishaps and face palms such as the latest advertisements for Coconut Palm, a Chinese coconut drink.
At the trade shows, many of the mega-booths were represented by domestic brands and at first glance the booths were indistinguishable from the those of North America, Europe or Australasia brands. Chinese brands coupled their slick booths with smart marketing and engagement. VR, photo opportunities, live streaming and interesting dispensers caught and kept show goers’ attention.
Along with the sophistication of branding among Chinese companies, more are incorporating fun, adorable and cartoony characters. Chinese love cutesy characters and many brands are riding on the success of local snack brand Three Squirrels by adding fun and engaging personalities to their marketing.
Action figures, princesses, animals and other cute characters were all present in branding and marketing. To Western eyes these mascots may seem childish but Chinese welcome them and the imagery and personalities help them relate and connect to a brand. China’s Air Force even turned their machines into cute cartoon characters to celebrate Chinese New Year! When using characters there are plenty of opportunities to get it wrong in China so best to test and verify that a certain image, brand or name will resonate with the target audience.
Much like last year, there were bad copies and even fakes that innovated on established brands. A few that caught our eyes were a take on Super Mario and a variation of Nutella. While there was only fake Nutella last year; this year offered several new Nutella-like spreads, including one made from dates. While consumers may initially be fooled, they are bound to find out the truth sooner or later.
China’s fast-moving food and beverage industry is growing rapidly and allows for abundant opportunities. But it is also getting more competitive, something we see firsthand through our research and experiences in China. The competition from domestic brands and among other imported products is tough. Getting China right means taking a strategic approach to geographic locations, products, packaging, branding and marketing. Get in touch with China Skinny to see how we can help you succeed in China.