You may have never heard of Chinese people being ice cream enthusiasts, but that is changing. While it was not a regular staple in their daily diet a decade ago, they are quickly catching up and even dominating the market. Over the years, Chinese consumers’ taste has evolved because of globalization and increasing purchasing power. Since then, ice cream brands have overwhelmed the commercial center’s 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.

Ice cream in China: A Very Dynamic and Lucrative Industry

(© Getty Images)

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, with ice cream that have become extremely popular in China.

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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 for this multinational sector with companies looking at ways to better cater their offerings towards this particular market. They are now looking for ways to developing flavors or producing healthier ice creams.

China: The World’s Biggest Ice Cream Market

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. In fact, mostly accustomed to a salty diet, the Chinese population is now increasingly enjoying sweetened products such as ice creams.

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 products in China, which is slower than in America. China’s ice cream market turnover was estimated at 6.65 billion U.S dollars by 2016.

The market has gained popularity thanks in particular to advertisements displayed all across China, and more recently, widespread on the internet and on social media. For example, this has helped to reduce the notion of seasonality, encouraging people to eat ice cream not only in summer.

Ice cream in China: A Very Competitive Market

A strong competitive intensity is found on the market justified by the growing interest in the segment. The actors redouble their efforts to innovate and differentiate themselves from competitors. However, there are five brands, Yili, Walls, which belong to Unilever, Mengniu, and Nestlé. Each actor tries to stand out to obtain the position of leader in a market saturated by the actors in attendance.

The increasing interest in this segment, the gradual acceptance of this category of product, and the strong competitive intensity force the players to seek the best competitive advantage through product innovations, packaging, and nutritional values.

Popular ice cream brands in China

  • Häagen-Dazs

While the price of Häagen-Dazs ice cream is 5 to 10 times more expensive than other ice creams brands, it was able to conquer the Chinese market. Indeed, as mentioned earlier, Chinese consumers are looking for highly qualitative and high-end products. Benefiting from international renown and success, it even has opened its own stores across the world. As for China, most Häagen Dazs stores are located in strategic locations, either in a shopping area or in spacious squares.

Inside an Häagen-Dazs store in China

The brand is also known for using quality ingredients, which is one of the most convincing arguments for Chinese consumers. Haagen-Dasz is considered to be a luxury brand of ice cream. In addition, the brand often includes romantic aspects in its advertisements, thus targeting couples for example.

  • Nestlé
Nestlé event in China

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.

  • Domestic brands are also extremely appreciated by Chinese consumers
Mengniu Ad (© 蒙牛)

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 Chinese consumers have been increasingly turning to foreign brands, domestic brands still have the advantages of being more competitive in terms of price, and benefiting from their localized strategies.

Different tastes and different habits in the world’s most populous country

Chinese consumers’ love for sweets and snacks

For example, Chinese consumers are not accustomed to eating/drink cold dishes/beverages, and ice cream is not part of the Chinese culinary culture. Moreover, creamy and sweetened products are not part of their habits)

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.

Sweetened products: Slowly becoming a daily enjoyment for Chinese consumers

(© Getty Images)

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 fruits flavors ice creams, but there is also the rise in popularity of particular flavors like avocado, tomato,  spicy chocolate-flavored ice cream, squid ink ice cream, etc. The most popular and promising segment for ice cream brands is healthy ice cream, low in calories and sugar.

The boom of healthier and low calories ice cream

As mentioned earlier, the most promising segment for ice cream brands 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 as well. as well as the probiotic products. On the other hand, lots of Chinese are lactose intolerant, that’s why brands had to reduce and adapt their ice cream according to this fact.

What are Chinese consumers’ purchasing behaviors 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 consumer behavior from Chinese consumers, who are increasingly inclined to turn to premium, healthier, and enjoyable products. These behaviors are mainly driven by international brands.

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 flavors. Eating an 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. Using the same business strategy as your home country will probably not have the same impact in China. Therefore, you need to have the necessary knowledge and understanding of socio-cultural differences between your country and China. One great way to do so is to do market research beforehand in order to analyze the market, your competitors, prices, flavors, etc. You can contact us if you want to have more information about our services for market research.

  • The rising use of e-commerce platforms

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

Why is China a promising market for ice cream companies?

  • Chinese consumers are looking for new culinary tastes and flavours
(© Getty Images)

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.

Ice cream, traditionally consumed for its refreshing effect is now more taken into account as consumption for pleasure and leisure, the factor of the season is no longer this decisive. As for drinking coffee or tea, it was considered as 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 to turn to more high-end products while enjoying tasty and refreshing snacks. Moreover, as they are looking for new culinary tastes, the 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 you are used to, which means it’s absolutely 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, tailor your brand positioning accordingly.

  • Consumers are looking for a unique experience
If you ever pass by Shanghai Shannxi Bei lu, you’ll see people taking selfies with their blue and green color ice cream cone.

You have to think outside the box in order to succeed. If you want your ice cream company’s sales to grow, then it is imperative that they start catering more towards Chinese consumers who love customizing their desserts. In fact, 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?

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
Häagen-Dazs store 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. By opening a physical store near popular tourist destinations, malls, or amusement parks can be extremely interesting for you. However, don’t forget that you might also need to use e-commerce platforms to increase your sales and online visibility (Also, think delivery).

  • Selling ice cream in supermarkets
Ice creams in a Chinese supermarket

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.

  • 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 which 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.

Read Guide to Export Food to Chine

It can be, therefore, more advantageous to work with distributors in China, as they are well connected and knowledgeable of the market. For these reasons it’s best not to try something on your own; if you get stuck or things don’t go according to plan then no one will be there for you. If you want to find distributors in China, you can contact us. Our distributors have been selected based on their reliability so that we can guarantee the quality of their services.

  • E-commerce platforms: An easy way to sell your ice cream in China

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 782 million users as of 2020. 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 a 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.

Magnum on Tmall

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 brands.

If you want more information on Tmall, you can check our Ultimate Guide to Tmall

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. 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, which represents an impressive audience for ice cream brands looking to expand their activities in China.

Ice cream on JD.com

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.

If you want to know more about JD.com, you can read our full Guide to Sell on JD.com

Sell Ice Cream on Chinese Market Place Taobao

Launched in 2003 by the Chinese giant Alibaba (also linked to Tmall), Taobao (淘宝网) is one of the most popular e-commerce platforms, specialized 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 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.

Magnum on Taobao

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.

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. As a matter of fact, people are willing to buy a branded product ten times higher 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 brand to China! You can contact us for more information about the process of registering a trademark in China.

Foreign Ice Cream Brands Need an Online Presence in China

In one of the most digitalized countries in the world, it is essential for foreign ice brands to have an online presence. Thanks to this, you’ll be able to target this tech-savvy population as well as increase your brand awareness.

  • Having a Chinese website
Häagen-Dazs Chinese website

For most of the ice cream 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 as well to adapt your website for smartphone users. Moreover, it is essential to have a Chinese website if you want to rank on Baidu.

Social media: A way to catch China’s tech-savvy population’s attention

  • WeChat: China’s Most Popular App

With more than 900 million Internet users, China has become the largest digital sphere in the world. Its specificity? Being completely closed to the outside world with its great firewall. The Chinese digital sphere is peculiar to itself and the censorship dominating the country prevents international players like Facebook or Twitter from positioning themselves in the market. Chinese companies have therefore created their own digital platforms to meet the demand of Chinese Internet users.

Häagen-Dazs’ official account on WeChat

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 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. Much more than a network of exchanges, the platform is a powerful marketing tool of the country to interact with your present and potential customers but also for your promotional campaigns and as part of your marketing strategy.

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

  • Weibo: China’s microblogging app

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. 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

Collaborating with KOLs/celebrities is crucial

Magnum Ad (© Magnum)

Collaborating with KOLs can drastically increase your reputation and visibility in China. In fact, as the Chinese population is mainly relying on word-of-mouth, brands that are at the center 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.

You want to sell your ice creams in China but you want to be accompanied in this vast market? Contact us and we will help you!

With China being the leading ice cream market in the world, it can be extremely rewarding for brands to export their ice creams in China. The ice cream market is indeed still flourishing 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.

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.

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