Over the last 12 months, Brandigo has enjoyed a lead role in several high-profile B2B campaigns and activations in the F&B sector. Helping overseas F&B brands on their China marketing journey has been an insightful process for us too! And as the Food Hotel China 2019 exhibition, one of the biggest F&B trade events in the ASPAC region, saw some of the world’s best-known F&B brands and industry leaders take over Shanghai for a week, we thought it would be a good time to share some of the expertise we have acquired working within the sector
China’s domestic consumption is a key driver for the global economy, and as reported by Deloitte earlier this month, the F&B sector, and in particular the demand for quality dairy products, aquaculture seafood, luxury F&B items and fresh produce with a transparent supply chain are amongst the product groups that have enjoyed the biggest surge in year-on-year demand. For example, Chinese milk consumption has increased 10-fold since 2000 according to research by Rabobank.
So, with Chinese consumers so important to many foreign F&B businesses, there are several key things to keep in mind for B2B marketers operating in the F&B sector that will lead to a more impactful China marketing strategy.
Digital has to be on the menu
A study by Boston Consulting Group has reported that 70% of consumer transactions involve at least one digital touchpoint, so for F&B brands and their China marketing strategy, a digital element is essential. Smart content that not only promotes key messages about the product but that also inspires, informs and encourages consumers to innovate with products will enjoy the most impact and engagement. WeChat is the most obvious channel and many F&B brands are creating engaging posts, utilizing H5s and mini-programmes, but as ever within the China market, there are multiple layers and smart B2B marketers will also be looking at KOL/influencer campaigns, as well as producing their own content for channels such as Xiao Hong Shu (Little Red Book) which blends social media with e-commerce.
A taste of the real world is important too
China has always been an early adopter of all things mobile and e-commerce, making itself a world leader in the process. As the country embraces 5G technology, the pace of development shows no sign of abating. However, this does come with a significant ‘but’. In order to differentiate themselves now, B2B marketers are looking increasingly at online to offline brand experiences as part of their China marketing strategy. Chinese brands like Alibaba’s Hema Fresh grocery retail arm have led on this with their ‘new retail’ business model. Activations, such as Brandigo’s award-winner British Gin Garden campaign, are creating attractive opportunities for trade professionals and consumers alike to experience brands for themselves, get hands-on with products, and engage with brand owners face-to-face. Like any campaign, brand experiences, pop-ups and the like will have a specific target audience in mind and should be supported by media campaigns to maximize their impact.
Have enough locally sourced ingredients
Localization is a delicate exercise for foreign brands in China, as evidenced by a number of brands, particularly in the luxury space, getting things very wrong indeed during the last 12 months. One aspect of brand strategy, the key messages that your brand communicates, can be a tricky pain point for any China marketing strategy as national and individual values can be very different from your own. The key is to tap into the brand values that resonate with a Chinese audience, which, from an F&B perspective are based on quality, heritage, safety and traceability, and innovation. Chinese tastes are broadening as more and more Chinese citizens travel overseas and increasingly experience foreign cultures, make sure your messaging house taps into this in an authentic, non-patronizing way.
A healthy balance
Following on from the above, there is a definite interest in a healthier diet in China, instigated by a government drive launched in 2016 urging people to cut their salt and sugar intake. That said, like many nations around the world, China has seen an increase in health issues relating from eating too much fat and sugar, and some of the food safety issues faced in the country have been well documented. There is an opportunity for brands who can prove their ‘healthier diet’ or ‘responsible consumption’ credentials, but again, authenticity is key.
This is just a brief overview for F&B marketers looking to implement or enhance their China marketing strategy. Each brand will have its own unique characteristics that will form the base of their China offer. But working with the right partners in-market and ensuring a strategy with the right amount of localization and mix of online and offline brand experiences and communications, well that to me looks like a recipe for success.