Healthy snack products drawing a crowd at a recent Food & Hotel Exhibition in Shanghai
Health has always been an everyday topic in China. Grandmothers in the street will stop and admonish me for underdressing my child in winter (anything short of cocoon bundling is “underdressed”), bowel movements are open topics for family discussion, and any type of childhood illness is a code red. On the other hand, smoking is still rampant, and oily, rich foods are leading to new challenges of obesity, gout, and heart disease.
With this as a background, it is no surprise that nutritional foods and supplements are becoming increasingly popular, especially with the rising middle class that can afford imported supplements. The nutritional foods category is booming along with this. Food and drink fortified with supplements are making China one of the most hotly contested countries for international manufacturers - both for consumer F&B as well as for supplement ingredient manufacturers looking for local Chinese distributors and manufacturers.
How to market fortified foods and beverages to this middle class? Here are some of the methods we have used that have proven effective;
Target audience - understand your consumer preferences. Talk to your target audience and understand what their touchpoints are, specifically which touchpoints are the real deciding factors. You don't have to spend money on every single possible touchpoint – it’s not feasible from a budget or resource perspective. Depending on where you are in your market entry - waiting for regulatory approval, looking for distribution, or developing retailers, this will vary. Typically these will be digital touchpoints, with some offline to online support to generate content.
Digital Key Opinion Leaders (KOL) - without the availability of Facebook - a fantastic channel for Western marketers - Chinese marketers will use WeChat and Weibo channels to promote the brand.
KOL might be micro-influencers - “real” people who are in the target audience and are influencers to their friends and connections, “self media” - a person or team of people who promote content commercially, or a celebrity, who for the right price will promote a tweet on their Weibo or WeChat channel.
Which is the right channel for your brand? This always depends on budget and KPIs, but a single tweet from a celebrity will not have legs without planned, solid marketing follow-up. It’s important to note that digital KOL may not be willing to attend product launches or events - they may really only exist in the digital space.
Weibo or WeChat? This is a discussion that can go in circles. Weibo is more public and searchable, while WeChat is arguably more targeted and personal. Both channels have a high risk of being gamed by fake fans and fake posts - it’s important to evaluate each potential channel carefully. For sure, WeChat isn’t going anywhere, so building an effective WeChat strategy is crucial for smart marketers – but don't expect millions of followers without putting time and thought into channel promotion.
Mommy forums - parenting and health forums are huge, such as 摇篮网 (yaolan wang), 妈妈帮 (mama bang), and 宝宝树 (baobao shu). They come up often in search, and are generally well regarded. Targeting forums through PR or advertising can be very effective.
Working with doctors. Doctors, from pediatricians to general practitioners, provide crucial credibility for brands. From our work with Culturelle, life’sDHA and other brands, we’ve seen how working with doctors can be extremely effective. For imported brands, mixing Chinese with Western doctors helps signal to the target audience that the brand is imported, and of high quality.
Working with America’s doctors Dr. Oz and Dr Roizen, and the UK’s Dr Hilary Jones, helped give our imported supplement brand clients important credibility - even if the Chinese target audience was not completely familiar with who they were. Involving Chinese doctors helps convince Chinese that the supplements are healthy for Chinese.
Chinese name and logo. Old news but not having a Chinese name will impede your progress in China. Why fight it?
For more ideas please contact us to discuss your supplement and fortification marketing in China.