SIAL China is Asia’s largest food exhibition, and something that China Skinny has been attending for many years, watching with interest as food and beverage vendors in China have evolved. This year was a milestone for the event, as the 20th anniversary. Yet in light of the global pandemic, and strict travel restrictions into China, it was always going to be a tough year, particularly as foreign brands have made up around half of the exhibitors at recent shows.
We take our hat off to SIAL who were bold to continue the show in China when virtually every other trade show outside of China, such as SIAL Paris scheduled for October, has been cancelled this year. In light of Covid-related uncertainties in March, SIAL China moved their original dates from 13-15 May to 28-30 September, a little over a month before CIIE.
As passionate foodies, with marketer’s curiosity, my colleagues and I set off to SIAL 2020. Since the travel restrictions mean that many of you could not travel to be there yourself, we have highlighted some of the noteworthy brands/ products, and a few of the interesting nuggets to keep you in the loop!
Last year’s SIAL China welcomed 4,300 exhibitors, of whom 49% were foreign. Due to the current circumstances, it was not surprising to see the majority of the exhibitors being domestic brands this year. 22 countries were still exhibiting at SIAL, with international brands mainly represented by local distributors. Whereas pervious SIAL China exhibitions had many halls of international exhibitors and country zones, most national and state pavilions fit into one hall this year, with foreign brands also dispersed through other areas.
In total, 2,200 companies exhibited at SIAL, with an estimated 60,000 professionals – about half of last year’s 117,595 – visited over the three days – not a bad result in light of everything that has happened.
Although there were less foreign brands this year, many still managed to put on a good showing:
Whereas many international meat exhibitors displayed traditionally foreign cuts, Vion Food Group – “food that matters” – recognised Chinese consumers’ preferences for different animal organs and body parts with their collateral and pork cuts exhibit. With the inclusion of pig flare fat, diaphragm, tails and even whole heads, the brand really demonstrated localisation for Chinese eating culture and needs.
We noted many vegan products at the exhibition, ranging from vegan milk alternatives, frozen pasta to ice creams. Although categories such as Oatly Milk are becoming increasingly popular in China, most vegan exhibitors’ booths didn’t appear overly popular indicating that there is still work to do for foreign vegan brands wanting to enter the China market.
However, the buzz around the meat alternative brands was at the other end of the spectrum when we visited. The overall perception for meat alternatives seemed positive, with the star of the show being domestic brand OmniPork. Perhaps it was the barbecue “meat” smell drawing people in, which saw the vegan meat booth rather busy. Triggered by the smell and curiosity, I got myself in there as well. I mean who would say “no” to some fake meat at 10 o’clock in the morning?
Though not a big fan of the flour-tasting “chicken strips”, the fake “spam” tasted just like the real spam, it might be even better now with the excessive amount of sauce. With OmniPork’s full launch on platforms such as Tmall and WeChat, I think it has potential to turn into the next Beyond Meat.
Everyone knows Chinese people love our hotpots. On-the-go single-serve hotpot was just bound to become one of the most popular instant products in the food market.
自嗨锅 (Single Party Pot) had one of the biggest booths in SIAL 2020. It was a magnet for countless visitors, drawn by its two-story booth and its massive LED screen rolling clips of people consuming the product from top Chinese variety shows. People simply couldn’t walk past without staring at the screen for couple of seconds, with many grabbing a cup of testers to go. These evolutionary self-heating instant products offer consumers not only a solution for a quick-fix meal but a tasty wholesome meal which taps into the Singles Economy.
With China’s continued consumption upgrade, consumers are trading up to more premium, personalized and functional snacks to fit to their individual needs. Mr.Owl’s functional chewing gums caught my attention as it expanded on chewing gum’s sole function for better breath to functional chewing gum products for drivers such as dealing with drowsiness or road rage. They also had gum for drinkers who want a fruitier pre-drink chew but also dislike the post-drinks’ alcohol taste.
Perhaps being a resident in a tier one city in China just comes with stress, because my eyes were immediately attracted to the yellow neon booth emblazoned with “stress-relief candy” signage. Out of curiosity, I approached the exhibitor to ask about the mechanics of the stress relieving part. From the information I gathered, the product essentially contains your everyday plain minty candies but with a patented capsule packaging design that is claimed to “provide a gratifying sensation when popping the lid open”. Perhaps my stress level is well under control, I personally did not feel the relief, but with the growing subculture of seeking these sensory-focused gratifications such as clan, slime, or even ASMR, I could understand why these “functional” snacks may get some support from the market.
While everyone has been talking about increasing health awareness and consciousness in China, those with less-healthy snacks can sleep easy – the food market still seemed to be crawling with heart-attack-inducing-snacks.
In the halls of SIAL 2020, it was interesting for me to see the on-the-ground applications of some of the most talked topics in our newsletters, particularly initiatives like livestreaming and the hanfu culture.
In every third booth I seemed to pass, I could see an LED screen broadcasting livestreams of Austin Li, a brand-side host’s live session, or a livestream light and a rack set up ready to go. It again confirmed that livestreaming had become a hygiene marketing tool for brands in China. If your brand does not have it, then you are likely to be missing out on sales and awareness, and handing over additional sales to other competing brands.
Similarly, the hanfu culture (the act of wearing traditional Chinese clothing in a regular daily setting) was prevalent in many brands’ SIAL 2020 campaigns.
“Buying some rice crackers? Come try on a hanfu outift and take a photo like a king amongst the pretty ladies.” This type of application of current market trends were eye-catching and enticing for the visitors, and would likely result in those photographed sharing the brands to their social networks.
I hope you enjoyed some of my observations. If you are interested in any of the products/campaigns mentioned in the article and would like to acquire more details, feel free to contact us today!