China’s F&B import market continues to provide exciting opportunities for foreign brands and export professionals as the Chinese consumer preferences for healthy and imported foods gives rise to new developments in China’s e-commerce sector.
As the online market for live seafood, fresh meat, and seasonal fruits and vegetables expands, F&B brands will need to adapt their digital marketing strategies if they want to create meaningful customer relations.
Food and Beverage export companies that want to engage effectively with Chinese consumers will need to consider the changing trends in China’s e-commerce, B2B branding solutions and the unlimited possibilities of China’s Digital Marketing Ecosystem.
Overview of China’s F&B Import Market
The demand for imported and healthy foods in China isn’t just growing, it’s booming. In 2019, China’s food imports totaled at a staggering US$90.8 billion, producing a year-on-year growth of 23.4%. From 2014-2018, China’s imported food value rose to a CAGR of 7.4%. At this rate, China is expected to import over $US100 billion worth of foods in 2021.
Out of 17 imported food categories, the top three Chinese food imports in 2018 were aquatic products, meats, and dairy. Together, they accounted for around 46% of all imported foods.
New Zealand, Australia and the United States are the three biggest F&B exporters to China. New Zealand having jumped the US to first place in 2018 with the country’s main food export being dairy.
What’s fueling the demand for fresh food e-commerce?
After suffering the worst effects of Covid-19, China now shows the world a way forward in the F&B industry. Quarantine restrictions during Covid-19 prevented many citizens from visiting traditional local wet markets, many of which were forced to close down. But this didn’t stop China’s demand for fresh food. During the lockdown period, the country witnessed a massive boom for fresh food e-commerce as consumers could now get the products they wanted delivered straight to their doors.
Now in 2021, most wet markets have been allowed to reopen but fresh food e-commerce continues to develop rapidly. The 2019 China’s Fresh Food E-Commerce report from iResearch shows that in 2018, fresh-food e-commerce’s GMV exceeded 200 billion RMB and its growth is expected to continue rising.
These statistics are the reason why F&B export businesses should take a “fresh” approach towards their digital marketing and brand image in China by seizing on the sharp rise in the online demand for healthy foods.
Where are Chinese consumers researching food brands?
Baidu is the number one search engine in China with 75% of search engine research in the country coming from the site. It’s also the fifth most visited website in regard to online traffic. This is where Chinese consumers spend large amounts of time finding out about F&B products and brands.
F&B export companies that want to build effective B2B lead generation should aim to rank as highly as possible on the site by using Baidu SEO organic traffic methods. However, it should be noted that Baidu SEO is very different from Google SEO.
How to rank high with Baidu SEO?
- Localize your Website
Websites which aren’t hosted in China (Or in a China friendly server) will rank low on Baidu. Due to China’s great firewall, foreign servers run slowly and if your site fails to load fast enough, Baidu can’t read the content you are offering.
With a .CN URL and a site that can be read in Mandarin Chinese, Baidu will increase your ranking as the search engine’s “spider” technology pushes content that it thinks is relevant for Chinese consumers.
Example of website localization for our Client: Rioja Wine
- Keyword Research
Using keyword strategies is an essential component of SEO. Similar to Google SEO, it is crucial to research keywords to improve your Baidu SEO. You can use keyword research tools to help your content marketing team identify which keywords to target.
- Mobile User Experience
According to the China Network and Information Centre (CNNIC) 99.1% of Chinese online users access the internet by using their mobile. This means that for an effective Baidu SEO strategy you will need to ensure that your site is functional for both desktop and especially for mobile devices.
Online Press Release
It’s not just your website that you want appearing on Baidu but also E-PR articles that show your brand in a positive light. Online articles that highlight a F&B company’s commitment to health and safety food standards will increase brand reputation. With links to your website, these articles can provide a gateway for generating leads.
Example of online PR for Bruichladdich Black Art 1990 Edition 6.1 4.5L Whisky (Source: https://www.163.com/news/article/FSMD0UO900019OH3.html)
Chinese consumers (and by extension Chinese Importers) trust news publications as they are heavily monitored by the authorities to ensure for high-quality content and news. The reputability of the news site will increase the likelihood of building a positive brand image and also enhance the exposure of your brand.
Unofficial Conversation Marketing / Forums e-Reputation
Companies can look to develop their unofficial reputation through mediums such as Zhihu(知乎). Similar to Quora, Zhihu articles can be posted to encourage positive discussions about your brand with a sense of authenticity.
Example of a Q&A on Zhihu for Ferrero Rocher (Source: Zhihu)
In addition, you may want to consider using a Key Opinion Leader (KOLs) to raise awareness of your brand to a larger audience. KOLs are usually social media superstars who can influence their followers’ purchasing decisions with positive reviews and advice about your brand.
Chinese importers are on the look for Brands with an already existing positive reputation and enough feedbacks from actual consumers. Creating those discussions and generating this positive engagement will increase the likelihood to generate quality B2B leads.
WeChat Mini-Programs: e-Stores, Catalogues, Loyalty Programs, etc.
On WeChat, F&B companies can create e-commerce “mini-stores”. They are super convenient for Chinese consumers to find as WeChat hosts 700 million users every day. Smaller brands can benefit greatly from Mini-Programs as they can be created even if brand reputation is in its early development stage.
Mini-Program e-Stores allow users to browse through a company’s stock, select specific categories, communicate with the company, create a personal account, and pay electronically. All of these features make for an outstanding user experience.
Example of our Client’s Mini-Program e-Store: Spain Top Wine
A Mini-Programs is not an e-store by definition. Many brands prefer, for various reasons, not to sell online (B2C) and deal directly with their pool of importers for a more B2B approach. For these brands, WeChat Mini-Programs can be used to create an importers/distributors hub, run contests, run loyalty and referral programs, etc.
Optimizing WeChat Official Accounts with WeChat CRM
WeChat Official Accounts (OAs) are incredibly popular on WeChat with most users subscribed to around 10 to 20 OAs. This means that there is a lot of competition for user attention on WeChat.
To meaningfully connect with customers, F&B companies can use a WeChat social CRM to streamline ultra-targeted content, product discounts and store promotions that subscribers will find interesting or useful.
Example of our Client’s WeChat Social CRM backend and its tagging system: Spain Top Wine
When a subscriber joins your WeChat account, either by searching on WeChat or by connecting the O2O via scanning a unique QR code, the WeChat CRM will assign them a user profile.
WeChat CRM will streamline data about their age, interests, purchasing habits and customer behavior into their profile and tag users into specific categories. These sections will determine the targeted content that can be specifically pushed for them. Check our WeChat CRM Article for more info or contact us directly.
With over 12 years’ experience in the F&B Marketing in China for Brands, Exporters and Governments, we would love to find the magic formula to your project in China.