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The rising attractiveness of local brands

The new aspirations of China’s middle class (part 4 out of 4)

 

Faced with the rising position of China on the world stage and the success of high profile local companies such as Tencent, Alibaba or Xiaomi, the Chinese middle class expresses growing pride and trust in the leadership capabilities of its country in terms of economics and lifestyle, which translates into an increased interest for local brands. These are perceived as much more price competitive and often better distributed across the country than their Western counterparts, faster at taking positions (launching new products, opening points of sales in new places), efficient at adopting communication codes that appeal to the locals and also more and more often innovating. This is what makes the success of Herborist or Inoherb in the field of cosmetics, Haier or Midea in household equipment, BYD in automotive.

As a matter of fact, the middle class emerging in peripheral cities has been less exposed to foreign brands, usually concentrated in Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities, than the previous waves of rising middle class. It turns more naturally to local brands in its daily life, even in categories traditionally dominated by foreign players such as beauty products or sports goods.

This growing competition from local brands has become a major issue for international brands in China. Its impact is probably stronger than the slowing growth of GDP on which Western media tend to focus but which does not yet impact the propensity of consumers to get richer. Local brands eat up foreign brands market shares and develop an intimate relationship with consumers, a factor of lasting success. In front of this, the reaction of large international groups sometimes consists in acquiring these new competitors, like when L’Oréal purchased the Chinese leader of beauty masks Magic Holdings, or to develop alliances like Danone with Mengniu in the field of dairy products. But the key trend is there: local brands are progressively developing the attributes of genuine brands, Chinese consumers aspire to consume them and this is changing the rule of the game in the China market.

 

Article written by Christophe Jourdain, Ifop International Director.

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Beyond present into the future

The new aspirations of China’s middle class (part 3 out of 4)

 

Access to a higher standard of living allows the Chinese middle class to look further than the present to anticipate and secure the future. Within all population strata keeping healthy is considered the first factor of happiness in life and the share of wallet dedicated to the family’s health increases regularly. Besides, the Chinese middle class has a high tendency to save: in a recent Ifop survey 79% of Chinese declare they save money on a regular basis, and the way they allocate this money is directed in priority towards long term projects such as housing, education of child and retirement. These aspirations carry the upcoming shift of the country towards an economy of services.

Simultaneously, the Chinese middle class is more and more sensitive to some of the negative effects of the consumption society, pollution and food safety in particular. The former has become a major worry in Tier 1 and 2 cities, and the latter is sensitive everywhere but more particularly in Tier 4 cities were the level of supervision by local authorities is perceived as lower and safety equipment more limited. On these matters, the willingness to act at the individual level, notably via more sustainable consumption behavior, is developing essentially in Tier 1 cities and within the younger and culturally more open strata of population. But it will expand further and brands increasingly need to deliver messages and proof of socially responsible actions if they want to stay in touch with the expectations of the rising middle class.

 

Article written by Christophe Jourdain, Ifop International Director.

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A particular relation to health

Boosted by improved standards of living and the development of medical infrastructures, Chinese citizens’ health and life expectancy improved drastically over the last thirty years. But the relationship the population developed to health is complex and has been impacted by repeated incidents in the fields of food safety and access to health services. This article presents some of the main specifics of the Chinese relation to health as observed in recent market research studies conducted among citizens and doctors in large urban areas of the country.

 

A vision of health deeply rooted in local culture and tradition

How health is approached is a central element of the Chinese culture and way of life. It is greatly influenced by the Taoist philosophy which encourages respecting nature’s life cycles and a nutrition approach that balances yin and yang. But what is really different from what can be observed in most other countries, Western ones in particular, is a holistic, enlarged, inclusive vision of health.

In this vision, mental health and physical health are deeply intertwined, much more associated to one another in people’s mind than elsewhere. The body is approached « outside in » but also « inside out » with the notion that what feeds external signs is before all the inside. In this way, physical appearance, for example skin tone, is handled as much via nutrition and lifestyle (sleep, no sun exposure..) than via cosmetic products applied to the surface of the skin.

In the posture of the Chinese, the notions of prevention, anticipation and harmony are more prevalent than the notion of curing what is not going well. Rhythm of life, nutrition, traditional medicine, feng shui, etc. all contribute to this approach. The population is therefore naturally in a position of anticipated management of one’s health, more than Western people who tend to approach health via a curative angle.

The impact of China’s development model

The rapid growth and opening of China to the outside these past thirty years have had a significant impact on the way citizens approach heath. Pollution and the effects of the environment on one’s organism have become major preoccupations for the Chinese who have become the world’s most worried population about the state of the environment. 53% of them even consider that « the effects of society on environment are so great that it is not possible for people to have an impact at the individual level » (GlobeScan 2012). One simple reason to that: large Chinese cities are amongst the most polluted of the planet and their inhabitants experience the consequences in their daily life. For them, the degradation of the environment is not a theoretical concept but rather an experienced reality with very concrete consequences: micro-particles concentration in the air forcing people to wear masks, water improper for consumption, developing allergies, etc.

The relation of the general public to health is also confronted to Western influence and a lifestyle model – individualized food portions, high in meat, the development of leisure activities, motorized commute, etc. – which impacts local habits. This is considered by the population as both a danger – perturbing ancient habits that have proven benefits – and the opportunity to solve or bypass certain problems specific to the Chinese society, for example in the field of food safety.

This vision is confirmed by doctors who see in two typical signs of the developing consumption society – the rise in pollution and in stress levels – the factors which consequences on citizens’ health will most rise over the next 10 years.

Food safety is a very sensitive issue

Following a number of crisis associated to contaminated food products over the past few years, Chinese consumers show more and more distrust towards the quality of what they eat. They are particularly careful about meat, seafood, fruits and vegetable. And a survey by the Chinese Association for Sciences and Technology shows that 70% of them think genetically modified food is dangerous for heath.

In sensitive segments such as baby food and dairy products, consumer from major cities turn more and more to foreign brands whom they associate to safer production processes and ingredients. Local brands keep an edge when it comes to proximity with consumers and having products that fit local taste.

Here again, the vision of health professionals echoes that of consumers. A very large majority of doctors (77%) consider that the presence of harmful ingredients in food will represent a serious threat to the people’s health in the years to come. This level of concern makes China stand out among 9 countries spread over 3 continents in which Ifop conducted a survey on health concerns.

Tensions about the national health system

Cases of medical staff being physically attacked by patients appear regularly in the news and are being discussed abundantly on social media. As a matter of fact a certain tension has developed between patients and doctors over the past few years, primarily associated to the opacity of the health system, which reforms are badly communicated, as well as to hectic schedules in hospitals.

As a typical example a patient with skin infection recently interviewed by Ifop in Shanghai described: « I don’t think the doctor paid enough attention to my condition. I waited an hour and a half to meet him, we had a 5 minute discussion, he barely checked me out and he handed me a prescription without explaining it. »

Even if the Chinese go to a family doctor on a day-to-day basis, hospitals are the place of choice when one is really ill. Over-attendance of these combined with limited resources contribute to growing tensions.

An evolution towards digital health

In order to take control of their health and alleviate their worries consumers search for information on internet. They share their experiences on numerous discussion platforms or interact directly with local or foreign doctors on dedicated sites such as www.haodf.com

The Chinese are very much advanced when it comes to digital habits: very active on social media they are among the world leaders when it comes to e-commerce and mobile application usage. This affinity with digital tools translates in the field of health into the development of online purchases such as on the dedicated Tmall site www.yao.tmall.com and growing usage of personal health applications such as Lifesense.

Major healthcare players now ought to take this aspect into consideration to optimize how they communicate with their audience and develop services that bring substantial value to consumers.

Opportunities for French players

In this Chinese health landscape, French companies, especially those in the food industry, services to patients and connected devices have great opportunities to meet the local public. They should not hesitate to display the guarantees of harmlessness and efficacy to which the Chinese are very sensitive. And as always in China, a very diverse country geographically and socio-economically, they should design a segmented approach to their market if they want to be really successful.

Article written by Christophe Jourdain and Chunxiao Huo – Originally published in French in CCIFC’s magazine Connexions

netexplo

Connected chopsticks detect contaminated food

Ifop is an official partner of Netexplo, the global observatory of digital transformation and how digital innovation impacts the life of people and corporations.

On February 5th, the winners of the 2015 Netexplo Forum were revealed at Unesco in Paris in front of 1200 decision leaders. One of the 10 laureates was Chinese Baidu Kuai Sou: connected chopsticks that detect contaminated food.

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