Selling foods to the Chinese market may be the best decision of your life; the world’s largest food consumption and demand projected to keep growing rapidly. However, unlike fashion or electronics, the Chinese mass market needs to find your product palatable; flavor adaptation in China is a lot more than just adding green tea.
In China, tastes and preferences are changing at a particularly dynamic pace. The country’s dynamic, flexible and adaptive consumer is able to respond in a flash to the latest iteration of a product. The rising income in large cities is powering new demands and driving companies to find new and interesting flavor adaptations to match China’s shifting tastes. Urban residents especially are demanding more innovative foreign food products from supermarkets, e-commerce or restaurants, sometimes regardless of their price.
Nestle set up 3 research centres dedicated to finding the ideal flavor for their product in China, but we recommend you instead read this article, where we point out the latest flavor trends favoured by the Chinese population in 2015. Here are the 8 ingredients to consider using for flavor adaptation:
1 – Cheese
The taste for cheese is still very undeveloped in China, and most of the population has never tasted real fresh cheese. International firms are introducing fresh cheeses to help the Chinese discover its taste, but the area of greatest growth is undoubtedly in cheese “flavour”. Hamburgers and pizza are hugely popular and often the first taste of cheese for many Chinese consumers. Notice that in these cases, the cheese complements the primary tastes, packaging an unfamiliar taste inside a more comfortable one. Taking a hint from this, domestic firms are offering cheese flavoured versions of their already successful crisps, deserts and even drinks to try and capitalise on the growing taste. Flavor adaptation with cheese is used as a promotional tool enabling products to get noticed.
2 – Blueberry
Almost out of the blue, blueberries have surged in popularity and demand in China. It seems just in time, too, as a deal with importers worth nearly $65 million dollars a year will see blueberries from British Columbia entering the Chinese market soon. Blueberries weren’t unknown in China, where blueberry flavoured yogurts and blueberries on pastry are already relatively common, but the sudden demand and influx suggests it may be time to investigate how to integrate this nutritious ingredient into China’s increasingly health-conscious diet.
3 – Lobster
Summer is the best season for eating lobster in China. Restaurants specialized in lobsters have been flourishing this year as people are especially enjoying small lobsters and crayfish. Lay’s Corporation has been offering lobster flavored potato chips for years in China, cleverly adapting this unconventiponal flavor to capitalise on the historic trend of associating seafood with luxury and exoticness. Lobsters also have the added benefit of displaying a festive delicacy and is believed to bring good luck with its bright red shell. To top it all off, lobster is a mark of prosperity in China, a great image to promote for foreign food on packaging or.
4 – Birthday cake
Despite being less of a flavor and more of an idea, the birthday cake “flavor” (sugar & sprinkles) is one of the latest Kraft strategies to boost the popularity of their Oreo cookies with children. The sweet and simple taste is associated with parties, happiness and love. It taps into the fact that the Chinese consumer is always more likely to adapt to a surprising taste if their first time has positive connotations. Flavor adaptation in China is more than just adapting the flavour to match local tastes, it’s also about finding a culture, a mindset or a feeling for consumers to associate with that flavor.
5 – Cream
The Hershey Company found after 30 years in the Chinese market that a rich, creamy flavor would be appreciated a lot more by the Chinese. The company launched three special sweet flavors for the Chinese market, and milk candies especially seem like they may be about to grow significantly in the coming years. Remember that China is quickly developing a taste for dairy products; they still like cream in their coffee, in their pastry, and in their sweets.
6 – Hotpot
Hotpot or huoguo (火锅) is a favorite dish in China. It’s a metal pot where diners can boil their own food in a flavoured and often spicy stew. The popularity of this dish lies in its many different tastes, from meat to mushroom to dumplings and vegetables, but also fact that it’s a common dinner to share with friends and family during the winter. Customer loyalty is known to be poor in China, consumers easily switch to new brands and happily welcome different tastes, so like with the “birthday cake” flavor, hotpot gives more than just a flavor, it gives a positive association. Lay’s Hotpot flavour chips is a favorite snack among Chinese students.
7 – Red bean
While Westerners generally don’t appreciate the tangy sweet red bean flavour, it’s one of the two most common adaptations for China’s market, along with green tea. Bakeries adapted to the Chinese market by selling a wide range of breads and deserts that integrate red beans, jellied or otherwise. The taste is almost considered a rival for chocolate. Red bean is used in many dishes and even in some of the most popular Chinese drinks, as well as in many Western coffee shops.
8 – Lemon
Lemon is particularly popular as an added flavour in China. In addition to being an attractive fruit in the eye of Chinese people, the freshness and tangy bitterness can really complement some meat dishes. A light lemon hint is also very popular in sports and vitamin drinks. The smell has been particularly appreciated in the last few years. P&G is selling large quantities of its lemon smelling shampoo. There is also more and more food packaging highlighting lemons as they are considered purifying and healthy.
9 – Kiwifruit
In the last few years, kiwifruit has been promoted extensively in the largest cities in China. Originally native to China (where it was called yang tao or “strawberry peach”), the fruit spread around the world, most famously to New Zealand. You could say it’s being reintroduced, and the cool, refreshing taste of the NZ exports is perfect for China’s sweltering summers. While the fresh fruit is expected to perform well by itself, companies are already developing ways to integrate it into foods and sweets like pastries, salads and drinks.
Those are just 9 flavors that could be the key ingredient to flavor adaptation in China’s market. However, behavioural analysis remains essential, as some people might react in unexpected ways to new or even familiar tastes. Keep in mind that, in general, beef and spicy chicken were considered easy successes for China’s fast food market, but they wouldn’t have been successful without flavour localization and adapted packaging. Don’t forget to test your product on the market, but don’t be afraid to try new flavors; China’s eager for new taste.