Over the years, Chinese consumers’ taste has evolved because of globalization and increasing purchasing power. What was considered at the time as quite rare or for special occasions, has overwhelmed the commercial center’s shelves. From luxury chocolate made by master chocolatiers to mass distribution chocolate, the Chinese market is one of the most promising for brands that wish to export their activities overseas. With almost 1.4 billion Chinese inhabitants, it is a wonderful opportunity for brands to conquer and retain a wide audience.
Chocolate in China: A Tiny but Promising Market
Being one of the most consumed and appreciated food products, chocolate is the most popular sweet stuff in the world, with a global industry worth $103 billion dollars as of 2019. Even though China is way behind the U.S and Switzerland in terms of chocolate consumption, it has witnessed a growing demand these past few years, becoming a very promising industry in China, especially for foreign brands.
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The Chocolate Industry in China
Introduced for the first time in 1705 to the Chinese emperor Kangxi as a gift, 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 an everyday foodstuff. 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 its consumption was democratized. As a matter of fact, Chinese consumers were not accustomed to sweets and desserts, as they were mainly using 5 tastes: salty, spicy, sweet, sour, and bitter.
It is amazing to see how fast Chinese consumers’ taste has changed compared to a decade ago when they were still skeptical about products such as coffee, cheese, and chocolate. Even though the Chinese chocolate industry is now involved with international brands such as Mars, Nestlé, and Ferrero, the market is still considered untapped, leaving opportunities for new brands to enter it.
As of 2020, the leading country in chocolate consumption was by far the United States, with 18% of the market share, while China only accounted for 3%. And, in 2018, retail sales of chocolate products in China amounted to approximately 11.2 billion U.S. dollars.
The Evolution of the Chocolate Industry in China
Traditional events are extremely important in terms of sales. 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.
What’s impressive is that, in recent years, many brands such as Starbucks and Godiva (Belgian chocolate brand) have created their chocolate moon cakes, attracting curious consumers, especially the younger generation.
But the Mid-Autumn festival is far from being the most lucrative day for chocolate brands in China. One of the most popular days during which people are gifting chocolate in China is Valentine’s day.
For example, the brand 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.
This shift in consumption has greatly contributed to its democratization among the Chinese population. Thus, China’s chocolate market is expected to reach USD 4.05 billion by 2025, witnessing a CAGR of 3.28% from 2020.
Who are the biggest players within the chocolate industry in China?
Many international chocolate brands were able to enter the Chinese market, giving the opportunity to Chinese consumers to purchase chocolate easily. The following brands are dominating the mass distribution chocolate market in China.
- Mars: 40% of the market share
- 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.
The other 30% are 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 exports their chocolate overseas.
How to sell your chocolate in China?
If you want to expand your activities in China and sell your chocolate, you are probably wondering if you should open your store. In fact, 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. Thus, if you are able to stand out in the chocolate industry, by providing premium chocolate, for example, it can be extremely interesting for you to open a store. However, don’t forget that you might also need to use e-commerce platforms to increase your sales and retain Chinese consumers.
Chinese E-commerce platforms/Online Marketplace
Following China’s rapid digitalization over the past decade, several e-commerce platforms were able to stand out in the Chinese market, grabbing over 782 million users as of 2020, and enabling this enormous spurt of China’s e-commerce sector. Thus, it is important for all kinds of chocolate brands 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.
Founded in 2008 under the famous Alibaba group, Tmall (天猫), is a subsidiary of the e-commerce website Taobao (淘宝网). Its target market is primarily B2C (Business-To-Consumer). Tmall’s concept is ambitious and wise as it allows both local Chinese and international companies to sell their products through the platform in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. Tmall stands out from its competitors thanks to its strict standards in terms of quality and renown.
Over the years, Tmall was able to attract the majority of online shoppers, as well as thousands of international brands selling chocolate.
Nonetheless, platforms like JD.com and Tmall only accept high-quality products and brands that already have a good reputation in China. Chinese consumers are quite cautious when it comes to food, thus, the majority of chocolate brands you’ll find on Tmall are most of the time well-known brands.
If you want more information on Tmall, you can check our Ultimate Guide to Tmall
Founded in 1998 by Liu Qiangdong in Beijing, JD (which stands for Jingdong 京东) was at the beginning only a magneto-optical store, which diversified over the years with electronics, computers, mobile phones, etc. In 2004, it opened its online retail platform and quickly became one of the two massive B2C online retailers in China with its competitor the Alibaba-run Tmall. Now, JD.com is partly owned by the giant Tencent, which has 20% of its stake. As of 2021, JD.com has over 470 million active customers.
Even though JD.com is the reference in terms of electronics and new technologies, it also provides a wide variety of food products, including sweets and chocolate.
JD.com has set its standards for online shopping through its commitment to quality, authenticity, and the variety of products it offers. Another asset of JD.com is the delivery time, which is, in general, the same day (or less than 24 hours). People can purchase their chocolate, and be delivered within a few hours.
If you want to know more about JD.com, you can read our full Guide to Sell on JD.com
Launched in 2003 by the Chinese giant Alibaba, Taobao (淘宝网) is one of the most popular online shopping platforms, specialized in both B2C and C2C transactions, as well as the most popular online entrepreneurship platform, enabling thousands of young entrepreneurs to be successful. It has hundreds of millions of products and service listings, which are really appreciated by Chinese consumers. As of 2019, it has 300 million daily active users and 668 million mobile monthly active users. Taobao accounts for nearly 60% of the total e-commerce sales in China.
Many chocolate brands are using Taobao to sell their products. However, it is also worth mentioning that there are lots of fakes and counterfeiting in China. That’s why Chinese consumers tend to be more cautious when buying food.
You can also read our Strategic Guide to Export Food Brands in China
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 effectively promoting your brand. 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 of its success among Chinese consumers. In fact, people are willing to buy a branded product ten times higher than a non-branded one.
This is partly due to the fact that China suffered for a long time from a bad-quality reputation following various scandals and counterfeited goods.
Imported Chocolate Brand Need an Online presence in China
In one of the most digitalized countries in the world, it is essential for brands to have an online presence. By this, you’ll be able to target this tech-savvy population as well as to increase your brand awareness.
- Having a Chinese website
For most of the chocolate brands selling their products in China, it is undeniable 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 for example, then click on your website.
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. Moreover, it is essential to have a Chinese website if you want to rank on Baidu.
- The importance of Baidu in China
As the most popular search engine in China by far, Baidu simply 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 as the “Chinese Google”, Baidu is the most popular Chinese Search Engine and stands as the 5th most consulted website in the world. As of 2021, 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 in order 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. In order 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.
If you want to have more information on Baidu, you can read our Complete Guide to Baidu SEO
Chinese Social media
With more than 989 million 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 almost considered mandatory to have an official account and be at the core of trending topics. When looking for chocolate brands, they will do research about your brand online. When hesitating between your brand or 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 its 1.2 billion uses as of 2021, far beyond Weibo, and is expected to grow even more in 2022.
Worldwide, WeChat is one of the leading social networks, ranking sixth in terms of active user number, 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.
For example, one powerful and useful way 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 people will be able to share it with their friends, like word-of-mouth.
If you want more information on WeChat, you can read our full Guide to WeChat and also our full guide to WeChat H5 Brochure
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 in order 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.
If you are still wondering why you should have an official account on Weibo, you can read our Guide to use Weibo for Beginners
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.