by Simon Dang
August 4th, 2014

How can a brand effectively cut through the competition and become successful in China’s F&B market?

From the national milk scandals of 2008 and the gutter-oil con games of 2010, to last year’s mysterious floating pigs in Shanghai, to say it’s been a challenging few years for the food and  beverage market in China is an understatement.

Food safety issues aside, there’s also inherent complexities of marketing in China.  Because China’s long food history is intertwined with highly distinct regional flavors and cultures, it can be quite a task for brands to reach broad appeal of their products with such distinct geographic preferences.

Weber Shandwick conducted a series of in-depth consumer food research studies to draw out conclusive data and reveal the top positive triggers that consumers respond to in China.  The Food Forward Trends Report 2014 draws upon interviews with over twenty recognized food experts across the country and a survey of more than 750 adult Chinese consumers.

Here are the top five insights from the report to help you better market your product in China:

Promote natural choices

The importance of living a healthier lifestyle will have a greater influence in purchase decision-making of food and beverages this year. 41% of Chinese consumers say they are paying the greatest attention to additives when making a wellness choice, ranking it as their number one concern ahead of fat (30%) and salt content (13%).  Consequently, the research reflects this sentiment with consumers stating that products in season (65%) and local produce (55%) are important motivators when buying groceries.  Over 55% of consumers surveyed stated that they buy organic foods very often or always do.  This is especially pronounced for products targeted at mums, where over 62% say they inspect labels for additives and ingredients prior to purchasing.  The bottom line here is that if your product contains natural, organic or other beneficial ingredients it’s best to not only promote this on regular communication channels but also on the front and backside labels of the product. 

Don’t forget about e-commerce

As e-commerce shopping continues to gain popularity among consumers in China, brands that might have previously relied solely on traditional retail channels should consider strategies to promote and sell their products online. The products most often bought online are non-perishable snacks, such as cookies and chips, with four in five shoppers (80%) saying that they buy them online. However, the market size for perishable items is not far behind with nearly half (47%) choosing to buy dairy products online. For foreign products, there are several specialty websites geared towards import foods such as tootoo.cn and yiguo.com that can be used to reach special niche audiences.  So, selling products on ecommerce websites can be a great strategy not to just increase breadth of availability but also to further lend credibility for brands and drive more offline retail.

The star power of celebrities and key opinion leaders (KOLs)

Although not every brand in China will be able to recruit an A-List celebrity to become their ambassador, the importance of influencer advocacy needs to rank high when building a marketing strategy. The popularity of advocates remains extremely strong among Chinese consumers with nearly three out of four survey respondents (73%) saying they are more likely to buy a product or visit a restaurant endorsed by a celebrity, spokesperson or other advocate such as a KOL. Over half (56%) of survey respondents say these endorsements influence them to purchase food products or visit restaurants two to three times or more, per month.

Bolster food safety claims through alternative methods

As food safety issues continue to be on the top of mind for Chinese consumers, shoppers are seeking multiple sources of information for their purchasing decisions.  For foreign food manufacturers, the good news is that origination is at the top of the list with 84% saying that origin is extremely important in choosing food products. However, conversations on social media reveal that there are also some suspicions about authenticity.  Therefore ensuring the safety of import channels is equally as important as promoting the safety at the source.  Secondly, government agency inspection approval was also considered important with more than half (56%) relying on government inspections, so any promotions of domestic certificates of inspection and approval can help boost confidence in a brand.  Finally, since friend recommendations (34%) and online reviews (26%) were also notable considerations for consumers when making food safety decisions, it has never been more crucial to have a robust online presence and build up a social community of fans and supporters.   

Link to lifestyle, traditions and family

70% say cooking and eating out are extremely important to social life, therefore communicating how a brand can help bring together friends and family as part of a social and lifestyle oriented campaign can be highly impactful.  Furthermore, family traditions are still a driving force for consumers when making decisions on what and where to eat.  Nearly three-quarters (74%) of all respondents agree that passing down traditional recipes is very to extremely important.  Thus any links to traditional Chinese recipes and food may help increase interest and purchase behaviors. 

Simon Dang is vice president, Inline Strategy at Weber Shandwick China

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