You may have never heard of Chinese people being ice cream enthusiasts, but that is changing as the temperatures are rising. Due to globalization and an increase in purchasing power, Chinese consumers’ taste has evolved and so has the ice cream market in China.
Domestic and foreign ice cream brands are popping up on commercial centres’ shelves. From high-end ice cream from well-known international brands to mass distribution ice cream, the Chinese market is one of the most promising and lucrative for brands that wish to expand their activities overseas. With almost 1.4 billion Chinese inhabitants, it is a wonderful opportunity for brands to conquer and retain a wide audience as well as increase their international presence.
In this article, we will give an overview of the ice cream market in China, with some tips as advice to successfully market your ice cream brand in China.
Chinese ice cream market overview
In recent years, China has been experiencing a shift in culture as Western influences are now visible all across China. This change is not just seen on TV screens and billboards but also in terms of food, fashion, beauty and other industries. Chinese people are more and more curious about some trends and habits of Western society and are keen to try them. One of the examples of a fast-growing market of rather Western products is China’s ice cream industry.
The combination of social media, tourism, health concerns about dairy products like milk (much more common outside Asia), changing eating habits as well as other factors have led to major changes in the ice cream market with companies looking at ways to better cater to this particular market. Ice cream producers are now looking for ways to develop new flavours or produce healthier ice creams.
Ice cream consumption is the biggest in the world
Since 2014, China has become the largest ice cream market in the world, with one-third of all ice cream bought globally being consumed in China. The country is experiencing exponential growth thanks to a change in daily consumption as well as increasing purchasing power. Mostly accustomed to a salty and spicy diet, the Chinese population is now increasingly enjoying sweetened products such as ice creams and chocolate.
In six years, the Chinese market saw its ice cream sales skyrocketing to more than 90%, propelling the market as the largest in the world, right before the U.S! This difference is justified by the size of the population and the growing popularity of frozen and ice cream products in China, which is slower than in America. China’s ice cream market is expected to reach 223 billion yuan by 2025.
Every year there are a lot of new brands trying to get a piece of the ice cream cake. In 2017 a record number of 5441 new brands joined China’s ice cream industry. In 2021 another 2798 brands started selling on this market.
The market has gained popularity in particular thanks to advertisements displayed all across China, and more recently, widespread on the internet and social media. This also has helped to reduce the notion of seasonality, encouraging people to eat ice cream not only in summer.
The biggest players in the Chinese ice cream industry
A strong competitive intensity is found in the market in the past few years, justified by the growing interest in China’s ice cream industry. Two Chinese brands are leading the market, Yili and Mengniu and with Qiaolezi, a brand that belongs to Yili, were the three most purchased ice cream manufacturers in China.
After the three Chinese dairy giants, other spots are taken by foreign brands, with Nestle in fourth and Haagen Dazs in the fifth position. Although Chinese brands are leading ice cream sales in the country, as they have more distribution channels and are more affordable to Chinese netizens from the whole country, foreign brands like Haagen Dazs are leading the ice cream consumption in big cities, as people value them for their high-quality and branding and are willing to spend more on their products.
Domestic leaders in the ice cream consumption
Yili Group and Mengniu (蒙牛) each have significant market shares of 17% and 10% of the total ice cream market in China respectively. Due to their long history, these two brands are well known in China and are appreciated by Chinese consumers. Moreover, even though consumers in China have been increasingly turning to foreign brands, domestic brands still have the advantage of being more competitive in terms of price, and benefiting from their localized strategies.
While the price of Häagen-Dazs ice cream is 5 to 10 times higher than other ice cream brands, it was able to conquer the Chinese market. Indeed, as mentioned earlier, Chinese consumers are looking for high-end ice cream. Benefiting from its international reputation and success, the company has stores all around the world. As for China, most Häagen Dazs stores are located in strategic locations, either in a shopping area or in spacious squares.
The brand is also known for using high-quality natural ingredients, which is one of the most convincing arguments for Chinese consumers. Haagen-Dazs is considered to be a luxury brand of high-end ice cream. In addition, the brand often includes romantic aspects in its advertisements, thus targeting couples and is purchased as a way to impress someone.
The company is also great in offline promotion, as Haagen Dazs ice cream is often found in eateries and restaurants, offering customers a luxury refreshment dessert after the main course.
Nestlé remains true to its promise of quality and has built a strong brand image through its presence in various categories of food in China, developing as well a close relationship with Chinese consumers. Therefore, Nestlé became one of the most popular brands in China in terms of food products such as ice cream as well as for other everyday foods like chocolate and coffee.
Different tastes and different habits of Chinese people
Chinese consumers’ love for sweets and snacks
Chinese consumers are not used to eating/drinking cold dishes/beverages, and ice cream is not part of the Chinese culinary culture. Moreover, creamy and sweetened products are not part of their eating habits, as sweet is also used in main courses and is not reserved for anything similar to what we consider a dessert.
Even though this chart is from 2015, the numbers are still pretty relevant. Back in 2015, ice cream was already among Chinese consumers’ most consumed sweets and snacks, with 23.4% of respondents stating that they purchased it recently. Since then the ice cream consumption was constantly growing, especially during covid-19 pandemic, when ice creams deliveries increased by 18%.
In China, the consumption of sugary foods and drinks was not common decades ago. However, with the phenomenon of globalization, foreign cultures are now widespread in China. Therefore, from a young age, children are accustomed to eating ice cream for example. Ice cream is now part of their daily enjoyment.
What are the most popular ice cream flavours in China?
In recent years, Chinese consumers have been looking for fruit-flavoured ice creams, but there is also a rise in the popularity of peculiar flavours like avocado, tomato, spicy chocolate-flavoured ice cream, squid ink ice cream, etc. The most popular and promising segment for ice creams is healthy ice cream with natural ingredients, low in calories and sugar.
The boom of healthier and low calories ice cream
As mentioned earlier, the most promising segment for Chinese ice cream is low calories and healthy ice creams. For example, Haagen-Dazs has created a new collection of ice cream low in calories, and another brand is emerging as a low calory ice cream: Halo Top ice cream.
Probiotic products are also popular among Chinese consumers. On the other hand, lots of Chinese are lactose intolerant, that’s why brands had to reduce and adapt their ice cream production according to this fact.
What are Chinese consumers’ purchasing behaviours in terms of ice cream?
The ice cream market remains a seasonal category of products driven by impulse buying. The segment is facing a change in Chinese consumers’ behaviour, who are increasingly inclined to turn to premium, healthier, and enjoyable products. These behaviours are mainly driven by international brands that are entering the Chinese ice cream industry year by year.
For example, Magnum and Häagen Dazs have introduced a variety of so-called “pleasure” products on the market in China to meet consumers’ demands based on textures and flavours. Eating ice cream becomes a relaxing moment and brands such as Häagen-Dazs have opened their physical stores across China, in strategic locations so that consumers can sit and eat their ice cream while hanging out with their friends.
Globalization has favored international trade and allowed the development of the activities of companies wishing to expand their business. However, wanting to expand its activities also requires understanding the country where you want to market your products. One great way to do so is to do market research beforehand to analyze the market, your competitors, prices, flavours, etc. You can contact us if you want to get more information about our services for market research.
With China’s digitalization, Chinese consumers tend to purchase ice cream online. It was even more exacerbated during the coronavirus lockdown. We will explain the advantages of each of the most popular e-commerce platforms later in this article.
China: A promising market for ice cream brands
Although China ice cream market is already full of domestic and foreign companies, with 5 big players taking up a huge market share, as the ice cream consumption is growing, there is still room for new brands that would like to win the Chinese audience.
Why is China a promising market for ice cream companies?
While ice cream used to be a delicacy, it has now become a widespread product in Asia and especially in China, where consumption is exploding during the hot seasons. As China, especially big cosmopolic cities like Shanghai and Guangzhou are experiencing extreme heat waves in recent years, the demand for ice cream is constantly growing.
Ice cream was traditionally consumed for its refreshing effect, but now people living the modern life buy ice cream for pleasure, therefore ice cream are no longer eaten only during summer. Drinking coffee or tea was considered a kind of daily life of the petty bourgeoisie and upper class in China years ago. Nowadays, Chinese consumers tend to look for a better quality of life and turn to more high-end products while enjoying tasty and refreshing snacks.
Moreover, as they are looking for new culinary tastes, China ice cream market is full of opportunities for innovative new players, making China one of the most promising markets for foreign ice cream brands.
What are the challenges for ice cream brands in China?
- Adapting your ice cream to Chinese consumers
The market in China is different from what we are used to in the West, which means it’s essential for your strategy to be localized. You need a deep understanding of Chinese consumers and their purchasing habits, as well as the competition. Then with those insights into the local market, you can tailor your brand positioning accordingly. Our agency, with in-house Chinese professionals, can help you with localizing your strategy for the Chinese market.
- Consumers are looking for a unique experience
You have to think outside the box to succeed on the Chinese market. If you want your ice cream sales to grow, then they must start catering more to the Chinese consumers who love customizing their desserts. When going to ice cream shops, Chinese consumers are looking for a unique and memorable experience to share with their friends, and on social media. The more personalized the experience will be, the most memorable it will be for them.
How to market your ice cream brand in China?
There are many ways of marketing products in China and the best strategy is usually trying to be almost everywhere. Here are some core aspects to take into consideration;
What are the main channels of distribution?
Choosing the best entry strategy is the most important key to consider when looking to export your brand to China. It will depend on your budget, the audience targeted, your goals, the timing you have, etc.
Ice cream shops are popular in China
Opening an ice cream store can be a great way for you to expand your business in China. Although many Chinese consumers are purchasing ice cream right from supermarkets and e-commerce platforms, people also enjoy eating ice cream when they go out shopping.
Opening a physical store near popular tourist destinations, malls, or amusement parks can be a very good marketing move. However, don’t forget that you might also need to use e-commerce platforms to increase your sales and online visibility. And the most important is that it’s crucial to build good e-reputation before even thinking of opening a shop, as Chinese people rather won’t visit a flagship store of a brand they never heard of.
Selling ice cream in supermarkets
Selling ice cream in supermarkets is a great way to display your products physically to a wide audience. Supermarkets have the infrastructure you need for selling, as your products can be seen by regular consumers doing their shopping. If you want to sell your ice creams in Chinese supermarkets, you can book an appointment with us here. We will find the right distributors for you that will introduce your ice cream brand to Chinese biggest supermarket chains.
Selling ice cream through sales agents and distributors
Working with a distributor in China can help you save money and time. If your products require certification, they will have to be certified by the Chinese government for safety before being sold domestically or exported abroad. You have to know that this is an expensive process that many businesses are not willing to go through on their own. Partnering up with one of our distributors means that all certifications may already be completed. All you need do is ship them over once finished, and we’ll take care of the rest at no additional cost.
E-commerce platforms: best way to reach the online customers
By selling ice cream online, brands can reach a wider audience of consumers and be able to adapt and plan their sales in the best way possible. China’s rapid digitalization over the past decade has enabled e-commerce platforms to attract more than 850 million users as of 2021. If you want to target Chinese customers, then it is important for you to have an effective marketing strategy by using these e-commerce platforms, enabling consumers to purchase where they want and receive their orders within few hours.
Use Tmall.com & Tmall Global to Sell Ice Cream in China
Founded in 2008 under the famous Alibaba group, Tmall (天猫) is a subsidiary of Taobao.com, primarily targeting B2C customers. The concept of this website was ambitious but wise, allowing both companies established in China (Tmall.com) and international companies outside of China (Tmall Global) to sell their products through the platform in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, or Taiwan while setting strict standards on quality control that are second-to-none among its competitors.
Over the years, Tmall was able to attract the majority of online shoppers, as well as thousands of international brands selling ice cream such as Magnum, Haagen Dazs, Nestlé, Ben&Jerry, etc.
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 ice cream brands you’ll find on Tmall are most of the time well-known worldwide.
Sell your Ice Cream Brand on JD.com & JD Worldwide
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 Tmall.
As of 2021, JD.com has over 470 million active customers, which represents an impressive audience for ice cream brands looking to expand their activities in China.
JD.com is the place to buy electronics and new technologies, but it also provides a wide variety of food products like sweets or ice cream. JD’s commitment to quality, authenticity, and selection, makes it stand out among other online retailers. Its fast delivery is also one of its major advantages for Chinese consumers.
Sell Ice Cream on Chinese Market Place Taobao
Taobao (淘宝网) is the most popular e-commerce platform in China, specialising in both B2C and C2C transactions. Considered as well as the most popular online entrepreneurship platform, Taobao enables thousands of young entrepreneurs to market their products on the platform. It has hundreds of millions of products and service listings, which are appreciated by Chinese consumers. Taobao accounts for nearly 60% of the total e-commerce sales in China.
Many ice cream 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 and are willing to pay more to buy products from foreign brands that have good reputation.
Promoting your ice cream brand in China
The Chinese market is tough to compete in, but attracting consumers without promoting your brand might be even more difficult. In a country where everything has gone digital at an increasingly rapid pace, it’s essential for both foreign and domestic brands that are trying to make it big to target tech-savvy consumers with effective tools and platforms.
Branding matters for ice cream brands in China
In China, more than everywhere else in the world, your brand’s image is the most important key factor if you want to seduce Chinese consumers. People are willing to buy a branded product ten times more than a non-branded one. That’s why having a Chinese brand name is also crucial if you want Chinese consumers to remember your brand. Also, don’t forget to register your trademark before planning to export your products to China! You can contact us for more information about the process of registering a trademark of your brand.
Foreign ice cream brands need an online presence in China
In one of the most digitalized countries in the world, foreign ice cream brands need to have an online presence. By having a Chinese website and accounts on the most popular social media platforms, you will be able to reach Chinese Internet users and build brand awareness and good e-reputation.
Similiarly to the West, a website in China is the first place people check when looking for some specific brand. Indeed, they will enter your brand’s name on Baidu and click on the website. Don’t forget to adapt your website for smartphone users. It’s better to work with a China marketing agency that will work on Baidu SEO of your website, so that you will rank high in the search page.
Social media: A way to catch China’s tech-savvy population’s attention
One of the most effective ways to make yourself visible on the market is to use China’s most popular platforms. 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 2022, far beyond Weibo, and is expected to grow even more in 2023.
WeChat is one of the leading social networks online. 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 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. There is also an option of having a Wechat Store in the platform, that enables customers to purchase directly through Wechat.
The Chinese social media app Weibo is a microblogging hybrid that has evolved over the years. First launched in 2009, this Sina Corporation-created platform offers many of its users services such as public posts and private messages to create engaging content for their followers.
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. 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.
Collaborating with KOLs/celebrities is crucial
Collaborating with KOLs (Chinese influencers) can drastically increase your reputation and visibility in China. As the Chinese population is mainly relying on word-of-mouth, brands that are at the centre of discussion will attract Chinese consumers. If someone sees a KOL talking about your brand and posting pictures of it on social media, then, they might be interested to try and taste it too.
Try reaching new customers through other Chinese apps like Little Red Book or Douyin with the help of chinese influencers. If you need help with the selection of the most suitable influencers for your brand, contact us, we have experience with all kinds of influencer campaigns.
Are you ready to enter China’s ice cream market? Contact us!
Although entering the Chinese market seems daunting, it’s not an easy task. You can contact us to discuss your project. Here are some of our services;
We can help you build a Chinese website that will be an essential tool to attract Chinese distributors to sell your ice cream in China. We can take care of building good e-reputation of your company. We also have big experience in introducing foreign brands to Chinese social media platforms and e-commerce platforms.
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 to get the best of the Chinese market.
For more information about our services and projects, do not hesitate to browse our website or contact one of our experts who will be happy to answer your questions and inquiries.