Chocolate has long been considered as a way too expensive product in China, an unclassifiable food in their national gastronomy, and hardly adaptable to local dishes.
Its market establishment in China is, therefore, kind of recent and came up with the culture of offering gifts, where it becomes fashionable to exchange this exotic and luxurious product.
The chocolate history
Cocoa culture is almost as old as the tea culture: it goes back to the first millennium BC. The word “cacao” came from the Olmec language, spoken by the pre-Columbian inhabiting the lands that became our contemporary Central America.
The pulp of cocoa beans was first commonly eaten before turning to another use of beans. It was not until the end of the eighteenth century that the chocolate candy appeared in his modern form, produced in the first British industrial chocolate factory of the world. As Pastor Thomas Cook target the tourism development, Joseph Fry hoped to use chocolate as an alternative to alcoholism, misery of the English society in those days.
Switzerland then impose its know-how until today by introducing the chocolate bar into carving squares, an egalitarian and easy split encouraging sharing-spirit in a still deeply steeped religious society.
Now, chocolate has become one of the main sources of snacking in Western society, particularly appreciated by children. It is currently developing in the Chinese market for consumers whose tastes are changing.
How to Export your Chocolate to China
Tip 1. Gain the trust of Chinese customers
Comptoir du Cacao is a French chocolate factory run by Desmartins family that chooses to focus on exporting and chocolate trade shows abroad. Their last market? Shanghai city and its cosmopolitan citizens. We moved to the French trade Wine and Gastronomy 2017 in Angers to meet Mrs. Roucheray, a multitasking employee and saleswoman at the chocolate factory, this time exhibitor at the chocolate village.
Faced with cheap industrial chocolates, hand-crafted factories are on a roll. No doubt for Ms. Roucheray that a chocolate factory must target high-end to seduce the Chinese market:
“The Chinese are looking for major brands. The influence of France helps a lot because it gives us a representation of quality in one’s mind. Visit the local trade show also helps a lot to make our brand & products more famous.”
The company does not hesitate to travel abroad and offer to taste the products to make itself known. They have participated in several trade fairs in Shanghai: “We offer a lot of tastings to our Chinese customers, not a single kind of chocolate testing but on the contrary all the different kinds that will be founded in the box.
We make sure they will like every product of our compositions. Generally, chocolates like ganache truffle or liquor are the ones left untouched because they are less popular for customers’ taste, so we do not work with ganache truffle or liquor chocolate. We let no surprise in terms of ingredients inside.”
Tip 2. Adapt yourself to the local (Chinese) market with Localization
Used to food scandals of all kinds, Chinese consumers reveal themselves to be very demanding and inquisitive: suppliers do not hesitate to ask companies about their list of ingredients and manufacturing secrets.
“It’s hard to work with them. A chocolate maker will never reveal his manufacturing secrets or even the ingredients contained, the eventuality of being copied afterward is too high. It took three years for the family business to adapt its production to Chinese customers and win the trust of their new suppliers by sending a profusion of free tastings, even giving away the list of ingredients contained in their chocolates. We finally succeed and our first orders arrived from China”.
Popular occasions to offer Chocolate in China
Marriage becoming an omnipresent social pressure in China, chocolate is considered a good present for the invited in the marriage.
Valentine’s Day is another occasion that the Chinese like to offer chocolates. Chocolate and roses are indispensable for Chinese during Valentine’s Day. The Chinese celebrate three Valentine’s Day: their traditional Feast of Love Qixi, falling on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month, the western celebration on February the 14th plus a commercial day invented on November the 11th and targeting the ‘unfortunate’ singles who need to cheers themselves up through shopping and friend’s presents.
A highly reflected trend in mass-consumption: “Our customers are fond of Valentine’s Day, they order girly boxes of chocolate, with red and pink colors full or heart-shaped decorations. It must be bright and visible. We do sell it less in France but amazingly well in China. We simply follow market trends.”
Tip 3. E-commerce platforms are great channels to sell your chocolates in China
A breeze to export products to China? An experienced businessman would not swear it. Comptoir du Cacao is currently only present at Shanghai Trade Shows because of the complexity to move in China, as material transportation has a significant cost and the products getting quarantined beforehand.
The company has of course relied on e-commerce, a great way to boost their sales especially with the hooked up Chinese customers.
E-commerce is very well-developed in China. As the digital economy takes shape, more and more people and businesses around the world are going online. The number of internet users in China reached around 804.5 million in 2018, leading to the explosive growth of the Chinese e-commerce market, which is currently a global leader.
Tip 4. Chinese social media & Baidu SEO to improve the e-reputation of your Chocolate Brand
If you want to enter the Chinese chocolate market as a foreign brand, you have to work on your e-reputation on Chinese social media. Chinese people don’t buy products that they don’t know, especially when it concerns offering gifts to friends. They want to buy famous chocolates so that their friends can find positive information on the Internet because products unknown on the Internet is perceived as bad quality in China.
There are so many channels for you to promote your brand awareness and e-reputation, we can not list them all in one article, but I will give you some examples:
- Wechat marketing
- Weibo marketing
- Baidu SEO
- PR (Press Release)
- Q&A management
Wechat is China’s largest social platform, with more than 1.2 billion users in 2020. It is thus one of the most powerful tools for your chocolate digital marketing in China. On WeChat, you can create a community around your brand so that you can share new products and engage your followers.
Weibo is the second-largest social media in China. It is an open social platform, so it is ideal for mass marketing in order to reach as many as possible of audiences in a short time.
KOL (Key Opinion Leader) marketing is very popular now in China, and Weibo is a meeting point of all KOLs and celebrities that you can name. But the choice of which KOL suits best your brand needs to be considered carefully because not every KOL can give positive results for all types of products and the problem of fake data proposed by KOLs should not be ignored.
You can also read our Strategic Guide to Export Food Brands in China
A Marketing Agency in China
Gentlemen Marketing Agency is a company specialized in digital marketing. We can help you to reference your products and communicate on Chinese social networks.
Do you have an interest in the chocolate market in China? We can provide you complete analysis and work out an efficient marketing strategy for your project. Need advice from an expert? Feel free to contact us.