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In the field of snacks, health upgrades have become a major trend, writes Nathan Wu. China’s consumers are no longer satisfied with claims of low sugar, low fat, no sugar, and no fat, but have begun to develop more specific demands when it comes to raw materials, ingredients, and additives.

According to iYiou’s “2020 China Fresh Snacks White Paper”, when buying snacks, health needs rank first among all age groups and are of the highest importance. For the health food category, most consumers are concentrated among the post-90s and post-80s age groups. With regards to chocolate and confectionary, health has become a major concern causing a rise in preference for dark chocolate among the post-90s and post-80s age group, as it is regarded as being healthier than standard varieties of milk chocolate.

The healthiness of snacks is not just talked about, according to a DXY survey, consumers will also pay careful attention to the ingredients and nutritional information before purchasing. Among these ingredients, although sugar, fat and food additives are of the highest concern, it is worth noting that 11% and 8% of consumers will pay attention to added nutrients and dietary fibre.

Therefore, it can be said that the definition of healthy snacks for consumers is slowly shifting from ‘less sugar’, ‘less fat’, ‘0 sugar’ and ‘0 fat’ to a more comprehensive understanding of the functional ingredients and overall nutrition in a product. Examples of health snacks that are rising in popularity include bird’s nests as a sleep aid and energy bars to boost energy and suppress appetite.

Vertical platforms have also been getting into the health industry. As an example, KEEP, China’s leading vertical fitness app, has expanded into the healthy snacks category, allowing users to purchase related products directly on the platform. With their DAU (daily active users) count at 6 million and MAU (monthly active users) count at 40 million as of March 2021, the platform is positioned to easily access and recommend healthy snack products to its user base who are the target audience. This development by KEEP reflects shifting consumer attitudes towards living a more health-conscious lifestyle and is especially evident in the fitness community and the number of users on KEEP.

 

Trends in Snacking

The general trend indicates that consumers are increasing their demand for healthier snacks, however, this does not mean that the healthiness of snack products has become the only factor determining purchase. During the pandemic in China, indulgence of snacking products became an important purchasing driver among consumers trapped at home during lock-down periods, a trend which has not slowed down in China’s post-pandemic era. Consumers are expecting richer and diverse flavours to satisfy their appetites, refusing products that are considered monotonous or too boring.

According to DXY’s research report, 81% of consumers consider taste when buying snacks. Consumers look for unique combinations and flavours such as salted egg yolk, creative potato chip flavors, milk coated dates, and other novel combinations that brings a unique experience.

Chinese consumers also pay particular attention to the packaging of snacks and often want to share their lifestyle and the snacks they are eating online through social media platforms. Therefore, products that have a design or packaging format that is unique and photogenic are more likely to be shared, thus organically validating the brand image and reputation. This has led to high quality and attractive gift boxes becoming a trend in China.

Another trend among Chinese consumers has been the increased preference for individual portions and smaller packaging of units. Snacks that come in multiple smaller packages allow consumers to control how much they eat in one sitting and are also very convenient.

With the continuous expansion of the snacking industry, there are endless varieties in the market, making it particularly difficult to choose standouts. To enhance brand recognition while still ensuring product quality, snack brands must carry out New Product Development (NPD) localized for China, and constantly innovate in terms of product, packaging, taste, texture, and ingredients. In the snacking category, new products are constantly being launched, so localized NPD is essential if brands want to compete and remain at the forefront of the category.

Brands should look to incorporate elements that will enhance the experience, such as personalizing products for Chinese customers. As an example, for Chinese Valentine’s Day this year, known as Qixi Festival, Lay’s launched a new range of chips with unique Chinese prints (see image). To make their chips more fun and engaging, the chips are printed with messages, and are available in three varieties, with each having a different theme. In fitting with Qixi, the themes were love, friendship, and singles. These chips are both very creative in appearance and have that touch of personalization that consumers enjoy. With the product’s unique appearance and ability to offer a novel experience to consumers, consumers responded by sharing the products online and discussing different types of prints and memes they found on their chips.

 

How can Snack brands build up their brand strength in China?

Building up brand strength in China can be split into three stages:

  1. The awareness stage where the brand begins to build up recognition among consumers.
  2. The consolidation stage where the brand develops a brand identity and improves consumer perception.
  3. The cultivation stage where developed brand building increases brand loyalty among consumers is experienced.

Stage 1 is where the brand determines its general direction and brand positioning. For an imported snack brand that has just entered the China market, building up a memorable brand and product image is essential. Thanks to the era of new media, this can be realized easier than before through media platforms that can quickly publish content. Using text, visual design, audio editing, user interaction, and other formats, brands can convey product information to consumers in a memorable and engaging manner. Through the continuous output of new content, a complete brand image will gradually emerge and can be showcased. Of course, in addition to online content, offline brand education is also indispensable and will help root the brand image among potential customers.

Stage 2 involves consolidating the brand image and gradually shifting from building up the brand in China to mass sharing. After brands have successfully developed a localized brand book, they will need to increase customer interest for products. This can be accomplished through online word-of-mouth marketing, using KOL and KOC recommendations, to increase online discussion about the brand and establish a sense of trust and credibility.

Stage 3 is the last and most difficult stage – building brand loyalty. An example is the loyalty of Starbucks’ consumer base. The brand has created a membership system, allowing for more interaction with customers and the creation of a community of dedicated Starbucks fans. This membership system has always been at the core of brand operations at Starbucks, and marketing activities are heavily focused on the membership system. Brands need to discover and adopt their own methods of increasing interaction and establishing an emotional connection with their customers. For long term success, increasing the product’s perceived value and brand loyalty among consumers has become more important than simply offering discounts and basic promotions.

 

Nathan Wu is a member of the RedFern Digital team and this article was originally published in the China market-focused magazine ‘The RED Edition’. To access the latest issue of The RED Edition visit https://redferndigital.cn/worth-the-read/#the-red-edition-issue-5  RedFern Digital is a China specific, full-service agency that helps brands navigate the digital ecosystem, increase their brand awareness and convert that awareness into sales.

Glenn Baker

Professional writer/editor with 35-plus years experience - including radio copywriting, various television writing/production roles, and writing for business magazines. I have also co-owned a wholesale food distribution business.

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