Over the years, Chinese tastes have evolved because of globalization and increasing purchasing power. Chocolate was considered quite rare or for special occasions before, but now it’s ruling on shops’ shelves. From luxury Belgian chocolate made by master chocolatiers to mass distribution of chocolate products, China’s chocolate market is one of the most promising for brands that wish to export their activities overseas.
With almost 1.4 billion Chinese inhabitants and a growing middle class, it is a wonderful opportunity for brands to conquer and retain a wide audience. The China Chocolate Market size is expected to grow from USD 3.83 billion in 2023 to USD 4.85 billion by 2028, at a CAGR of 4.81% during the forecast period (2023-2028). Therefore, the Chinese chocolate market is an attractive choice for foreign manufacturers trying to introduce chocolate and cocoa products in China.
Chinese Chocolate Market Overview
Being one of the most consumed and appreciated food products, chocolate is the most popular sweet dessert in the world, with a global industry predicted to reach 160.9 billion dollars by 2027.
Even though China is way behind the U.S. and Switzerland in terms of chocolate consumption, it has witnessed a growing demand in the past few years, becoming a very promising industry in China, especially for foreign chocolate companies.
The Chocolate Industry in China
Chocolate was introduced in 1705 to the Chinese emperor Kangxi as a gift, but the chocolate market in China has boomed since the 1990s. Considered for a long time as a premium product for special occasions, it progressively became a kitchen cupboard essential for many Chinese. It is important to know that Chinese consumers are not used to eating chocolate, and it was thanks to foreign brands expanding their activities in China that chocolate consumption was democratized.
Chinese people are not used to eating chocolate and desserts, as Chinese culture was never about sweets. Chinese food usually consists of 5 tastes; salty, spicy, sweet, sour, and bitter. But the sweet taste is added to main sour dishes and is not treated as something separate, reserved for dessert as we do it in the West.
Although international chocolate makers like Mars Group, Nestlé, or Ferrero are already storming the chocolate market in China, this market is still considered untapped, leaving opportunities for new brands to have a piece of this (chocolate) cake.
China’s Chocolate Consumption
What is important to mention is the fact that most of the chocolate in China is not consumed as such, because Chinese people are still in the process of getting used to consuming chocolate. They prefer to add it to other chocolate products, like cakes with a fragrant milky taste enriched by milk chocolate, soft candy with chocolate chips, biscuits, and sweet drinks.
China’s chocolate market is dominated by cocoa and dark chocolate, as Chinese people are more conscious about their health and are aiming for a more balanced diet with saccharine desserts instead of real sugar. According to Market Watch research, cocoa beans reached 64,127.70 tons in 2022 with a CAGR of 6.60% in terms of volume.
What are the Biggest Chocolate Companies in the Chinese Market?
Many international chocolate brands were able to enter the Chinese chocolate industry, allowing Chinese consumers to purchase chocolate easily. The following brands are dominating the mass distribution chocolate market in China;
- Mars: 40% of the market share
Mars is the biggest player on the chocolate market in China, with a lot of products being widely popular among Chinese netizens in recent decades. Here are the main brands of Mars Group company;
- Ferrero: 28% of the market share
It is important to know that foreign chocolate brands are taking up to 70% of the Chinese chocolate market. China chocolate market presents an enormous potential for international companies, as Western sweets and other products are increasingly popular among Chinese people, especially in cities like Shanghai, Hong Kong or Beijing.
The other 30% of China’s chocolate market share is from local brands such as the Chinese chocolate brand Leconte (that has been sold to Hollygee in 2016). However, it is also important to know that in China, the maximum amount of cocoa authorized is about 25%, whereas it is around 35% minimum worldwide. Thus, it is difficult for Chinese brands, for example, to export their chocolate overseas, which gives foreign brands a competitive advantage in the market.
How to Sell Your Chocolate in China?
What is important to understand about China chocolate market is that Chinese netizens are new to chocolates and sweets, as it’s something that they didn’t have in their culture before. The capita consumption in China is still very small in comparison to other countries like US or even Japan, where every person eats 1.2kg a year. In China, it’s only 0.1kg.
Although there are a lot of business opportunities for foreign brands on China chocolate market, chocolates are gaining popularity rather in big cities like Shanghai, where people are used to Western products and international standards. Therefore, while crafting a marketing strategy for your brand, you need to think of appropriate distribution channels so that your chocolates gain the audience you are looking for.
Supermarkets and grocery stores have the biggest sales of chocolates in China, but when it comes to other distribution channels that cater to chinese standards, the most profitable will be;
If you want to expand your activities in China and sell chocolates, you are probably wondering if you should open your store. Even though the majority of Chinese consumers are buying chocolate directly in supermarkets or on e-commerce platforms, the younger generation now wants higher-quality and creative products with high prices, because they consider them more luxurious.
Opening a flagship store of your brand in one of luxury malls or shopping streets in first tier city in the country will make your brand stand out. However, don’t forget that you might also need to use e-commerce platforms to increase your sales and build brand awareness.
Chinese E-commerce Platforms and Online Marketplaces
Following China’s rapid digitalization over the past decade, several e-commerce platforms were able to stand out in the Chinese market, grabbing over 900 million users in 2023, and enabling this enormous spurt in China’s e-commerce sector. Thus, all kinds of chocolate brands need to sell their chocolate online, using e-commerce platforms.
If you want to target a wide audience of consumers, you need to have the best tool to do so. E-commerce platforms allow you to control directly your sales, enabling at the same time consumers all across China to purchase your chocolate and receive it within the day. Let’s check the most popular ones;
How to promote your chocolate in China?
With China being one of the most competitive markets in the world, it is difficult to attract consumers without an effective marketing strategy. In a country where everything is digitalized at a faster pace, targeting tech-savvy consumers using digital tools has become essential for both Chinese and foreign brands.
The Importance of Branding for Imported Chocolate in China
In China, more than everywhere else in the world, a brand’s image is an important key factor in its success among Chinese consumers. People are willing to buy a branded product ten times more than a non-branded one.
This is partly because China suffered for a long time from a bad-quality reputation following various scandals and counterfeited goods. And since the competition in the market is huge, consumers prefer to rely on brands that they already know or someone recommended to them.
Imported Chocolate Brands Need an Online presence in China
In one of the most digitalized countries in the world, brands need to have an online presence. By this, you’ll be able to target this tech-savvy population as well as increase your brand awareness. There are several aspects to consider;
Having a Chinese Website
For most of the chocolate brands selling their products in China, it is essential for them to create a website in Mandarin Chinese. In general, the first thing consumers will be looking at is your website. Indeed, they will enter your brand’s name on Baidu and check what appears there first. You need to make sure that it will be your website, that will be well optimized for SEO in China.
Don’t forget that you must adapt your website for smartphones, as the majority of the population uses their smartphone to do online research, on their way to work, or during lunch break.
As the most popular search engine in China by far, Baidu is a step you can’t skip in China. However, increasing your website’s ranking on Baidu requires a slightly different way of thinking about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) compared to what you might be used to with Google. Considered the “Chinese Google”, Baidu is the most popular Chinese Search Engine and stands as the 5th most consulted website in the world. As of 2022, it represents 71.9% of the Chinese market share.
Baidu is an opening window to enter the Chinese chocolate market as consumers will do their research on it to discover your brand. If you are not visible through the first pages, you won’t probably get much traffic. That’s why working on Baidu’s SEO is as important as setting up your e-commerce online shop.
To do it successfully without wasting too much time, you can contact specialized experts such as GMA. We have helped many companies increase successfully their rank on Baidu, gaining much traffic, and thus, much more clients.
Chinese Social media
With more than 1.02 billion internet users in China, it has become essential for brands to be on social media. However, due to the Great Firewall, social apps such as Facebook, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat are unavailable. This means that you will need to comply with Chinese social media if you want to target new Chinese consumers.
As you understand, the Chinese population is among the most connected in the world, and with a tech-savvy population, it is considered mandatory to have an official account and be at the core of trending topics. When looking for chocolate brands, Chinese internet users will research your brand online. When hesitating between your brand and another, they will look at reviews, forums, pictures, etc.
Created by the Chinese company Tencent and released in 2011, WeChat, also known as Weixin (微信) in China, is the most used social media in China with 1.26 billion users as of 2023, far beyond Weibo, and is expected to grow even more.
WeChat is one of the leading social networks worldwide, ranking sixth in terms of active user number, and becoming a lucrative marketing platform with its plethora of different functionalities. Its success relies on the fact that Wechat was able to integrate almost all the features that made the success of the world’s most popular networks.
One of the powerful and useful ways to take advantage of WeChat is to create an H5 brochure that you’ll be able to share with your followers, and directly on your social media accounts. It is cost-effective and works like a website within the WeChat platform.
Launched in 2009 by the Chinese technology company Sina Corporation (新浪), Weibo (微博) is one of the biggest social media platforms in China. As its name indicates (“micro-blog”), Weibo provides micro-blogging services and is often compared to Twitter. However, it has evolved into a microblogging hybrid with Instagram, Pinterest, Reddit, and YouTube over the years.
As of 2021, Weibo has 56.8% of the Chinese microblogging market in terms of active users, and 86.6% in terms of browsing time over Chinese competitors such as Tencent and Baidu. It has more than 511 monthly active users and millions of posts per day, making it the largest Chinese-language mobile portal. Almost all Chinese millennials are using this social app to follow celebrities, KOLs, brands, read news, etc.
With the majority of foreign brands having an official account on Weibo, you will probably have to consider creating an official account on Weibo. To do so, you can contact us and our team will take care of it.
Little Red Book
Little Red Book is one of the most famous social media and e-commerce platforms in China. Also known as Xiaohongshu (Chinese name) or simply RED, this platform has 300 million registered users with the majority being women. They look for shopping recommendations and opinions about products they want to purchase, look for travel, fashion or beauty tips and many more. The app is compared to a mix between Instagram and Pinterest, with its e-commerce platform.
There are many more platforms worth exploring in China and every brand might be suitable for different ones, depending on your target audience. If you’d like to understand the social media landscape in China, please check more here.
Online and Offline Promotion During Chinese Holidays
Traditional holidays and events in China are extremely important in terms of sales. This is when people gather together to eat, weather it’s home-made food or restaurant treats. They also look for some luxury products to buy as gifts.
For example, during the Mid-Autumn festival that takes place every year in October, it is part of the tradition to offer and eat moon cakes. These moon cakes are pastries usually filled with red beans, egg yolk, or meat and they are round, which represents the full moon. You can see how they look below;
Although a lot of Chinese netizens will still prefer to eat the traditional version of those cakes, many foreign and Chinese chocolate manufacturers like Godiva (Belgian chocolate brand) have created their chocolate moon cakes variations, attracting curious consumers, especially the younger generation that is already used to all kinds of chocolates and other Western sweets.
But the Mid-Autumn festival is not the holiday to generate the biggest sales on the chocolate market. The most lucrative day for chocolate sales is Valentine’s Day when people in first-tier cities tend to gift each other with chocolate boxes in addition to flowers. And what is important to mention is that there are a few days in the year that are celebrated as our Valentine’s Day in China, so there are even more occasions to eat chocolate!
Chocolate Brand Case Study: Ferrero Rocher
Ferrero Rocher started to sell its first products in China in 1994. It first positioned itself as a luxury brand but later changed to something more affordable, which was a move that brought the company great success in the Chinese chocolate market.
Ferrero Rocher is extremely popular in China thanks to its gold packaging. In fact, Ferrero’s golden packaging symbolizes fortune in China. And while hard candy and jellied fruits were distributed during weddings, young newly-weds tend to include chocolate as well in their candy packages. Hence, more than 15% of Ferrero Rochers’ sales in China come from wedding gifts.
Today Ferrero Rocher and other products from Ferrero company are becoming a daily necessity for many Chinese from big cities like Shanghai or Guangzhou and it’s fair to say that it has established a strong, undeniable reputation on the market.
Contact us to Sell Your Chocolate in China
With China being one of the most promising markets for chocolate brands, many of them are trying to enter the Chinese market in order to conquer a wide audience. The chocolate market is indeed still considered untapped and has a lot of opportunities for brands that are willing to invest themselves in order to adapt to the Chinese market and to Chinese consumers.
Collaborating with an agency specialized in the Chinese market is the best way to achieve your goal and increase your Return On Investment. As all companies are different, the marketing and advertising strategy must be tailored according to their needs and within their financial means.
Proud of the success of the companies we have helped over the years, we know exactly the needs of each company and the strategies that must be tailored to them in order to get the best of the Chinese market.
You can also look at our case studies here
And of course, if you have questions about selling, advertising, exporting, etc. your chocolate in China, contact us directly, and we will reply to you within 24 hours.