The Cheese Market is booming in China. Whereas in the United States, the cheese is part of the daily consumption, in China it is not necessarily so. At least not until recently. The market has seen a surprising growth, an average of + 30.8% over the last 5 years, showing again the growing popularity of this food among Chinese consumers.
The cheese market, a very promising market
In 2017, cheese consumption in China reached more than 69,000 tons. Indeed, still far from the 3.71 million tons in America, but it represents a very dynamic market with consumers becoming more and more fans.
Japan and Korea consume respectively 230,000 tons and 110,000 tons.
Market value in 2017 was +4.93 billion yuan, +22% from 2015. The market is expected to have almost tripled by 2022.
The growth of the cheese market in China is enough to let the players in this industry look forward.
How did the cheese become popular in China?
Not only present in France or Holland, there are also some traces of cheese in China. Although this is, in fact, a universal food, it is clear that cheese has not always been widely consumed in China. In China, cheese is in the tradition of Mongolians and Tibetans.
Most Chinese consumers had their first approach to cheese in pizzas, cheesecakes, cupcakes or even in “Tom & Jerry”. Others have discovered this food during their experience abroad.
However today many brands, Chinese and international brands, seek to bring the cheese to the table of Chinese families, incorporated into traditional dishes.
Then, it seemed impossible until we saw the changes that happened with the economic openness and the trend of globalization of eating habits.
The expansion of the cheese was carried out mainly via 2 channels:
– the fast-food
– Chic restaurants
These two have allowed observing that Chinese consumers do not dislike, and even appreciate the taste of cheese, which is quite an uncommon taste in China.
What’s the image of the cheese?
Most of the time, its protein and calcium intakes are presented to Chinese consumers. “Good for pregnant women and the elderly” as it is stated on Baidu Baike (the Chinese Wikipedia). The nutritional side is explained, and the description highlights that the cheese is a concentrate of milk.
People don’t talk a lot now about the fat intake … because, on Baidu, people even asked for “how to lose weight by consuming cheese”.
Unlike amateurs in some countries abroad, who remain very attached to their tradition and taste, especially to their cheese, Chinese consumers are quite open to new foods, both local and foreign specialties. These are excellent consumers, ready to discover all kinds of cheese.
Cheese Embargo, Are Chinese clients going to reduce their consumption of cheese?
Restrictive measures on importations
Measures at the end of 2017 were taken to reduce or even stop the importation of some fifty kinds of cheeses, mainly French, in the middle-empire. The reason given by health authorities is the presence of unwanted bacteria. The cheeses concerned are soft cheeses and marbled cheeses, such as Camembert, Brie, or Roquefort cheeses.
Behind this measure, French cheese producers denounce a protectionist strategy aimed at favoring the Chinese dairy industry. Indeed, China considers that the same cheese is safe if it is produced in the interior of the country.
The cheese remains an appreciated product
They are certainly not ready to reduce their consumption … In the current trend, 9/10 popular food contain cheese in their recipe. On cakes, in biscuits, even in drinks (cf the most popular beverage brand in China 喜 茶, its best-sellers are those fresh drink called芝芝something, based on cheese), in the pizzas of course but also in some Chinese dishes revisited.
Consumers greatly appreciate the addition of cheese in foods (and they have not all tasted bread/cheese yet …).
China still needs the know-how of its foreign counterparts
In China, many people don’t know yet that 奶酪 (nai lao), the translation of cheese into Mandarin and 芝士 zhishi, derived actually from the word ‘cheese ‘, both refer to cheeses.
The cheese is currently marketed under the designation of Zhishi (cheese) rather than Nailao. Because Nailao sounds more caloric whereas it is actually the right word. Fortunately, more and more consumers are seeking to promote the real cheese culture in China.
Compared to the long history and the deeper culture for cheese in other countries, the local cheese market in China is a bit late. 4/5 leading Cheese brands in the market are foreign brands.
China is looking to improve its cheese production techniques, to completely integrate it into its traditional food. For this, China will need the expertise of its European counterparts.
You can also read our Strategic Guide to Export Food Brands in China
5 solution to sell your cheese in China
1/ Working on the product’s description
It is useful to highlight the benefits that cheeses bring. Some brands play on the nutritional benefits of cheese for consumer’s health. In addition, the origin and story-telling around the brand and its products can also offer a considerable competitive advantage, by catching consumer’s interest.
For this, having your brand’s website in Chinese is important. As a communication platform but also as an image of the quality and authenticity of your brand.
2/ Adaptation to Chinese consumer’s taste
Bongrain SA is one of the market leaders today in the Chinese cheese market, with almost 20% market share. This company entered in China in 1997, by establishing its first plant in Tianjin.
However, Bongrain noticed that Chinese consumers didn’t appreciate a lot of the naturally salty taste of cheese (things are changing nowadays). Thus, the company has worked to better meet the needs of its Chinese clientele, changing some of its recipes. Chinese consumers likely prefer creamy and spreadable cheeses. (This type of cheese represents 80% of sales in the market).
3/ Leveraging Social media
Your products must be presented and viewed enough by Chinese consumers indeed, especially on the internet. The Chinese are increasingly hunted for information online and this is an opportunity for brands to make themselves known and trusted. For this, it is important to ensure your visibility and reputation online.
4/ Managing the SEO Baidu
As Baidu is the leading search engine in China, it is important to properly reference your brand or product in related searches. Again, to ensure your visibility, your brand must be sufficiently “popular” and Chinese customers need to find it easily with keywords. Thus, word of mouth and the product reputation are important things.
More information about our SEO services here.
5/ Bonus: Little red book ， useless in promoting your product?
At all. Here is what we can find at the bottom of an article on Little Red Book, entitled “cheesecake recipe”.
Little Red Book is the new favorite tool of marketers in China. It is a social network that encourages its users to share their daily lives, discoveries, and experiences with others. 780 million topics are created daily in a community of more than 70 million active users. LRB is also an e-commerce platform. Brands make a request to enter the platform and can then market their product.
Promotion is mainly done through posting and user sharing. Some quality articles have the chance to appear in the home page of LRB (in this case, it is the jackpot). This can significantly boost the exposure and therefore the sale of products. However, this often requires paying to be put forward.
Let’s go back to our cheeses. Can the platform be useful in our case? Although LRB is mainly used in the field of fashion and cosmetics, let’s not forget that it is also an excellent sharing application where users are looking for new discovering.
Incorporated into recipes, during aperitifs with friends, in French restaurants, a trip in Paris, there are many topics in which we can promote cheese.
The fancy culinary culture is attracting more and more Chinese consumers, especially Chinese cooking lovers. They do not hesitate to share the books they have read, the places they went, and what they tasted!
Gma is a Shanghai-based digital marketing agency. Our experts are here to develop the most appropriate strategy to develop your brand in China and to reach your goals.
The cheese market is a very promising industry today. We help you seize this opportunity with the most effective digital tools.
Do not hesitate to send us an email if you wish to discuss a project.
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