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UK food and beverage industry grows in China

by Antoaneta Becker
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Antoaneta Becker reports from China’s major food and beverage conference, FHC

The annual ritual of record online shopping that is China’s Singles Day always occurs in the same week that FHC (Food and Hotel China) – the country’s best established international food and drink trade fair – convenes in Shanghai. Although a coincidence, it highlights the market’s appetite for quality nutrition and innovative branded products. About 10 percent of all online sales in China are Fast Moving Consumer Goods, and each Singles Day a new champion on Chinese online platforms for food product innovation is unveiled.

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As China’s prime trade exhibition for international food and drink brands, FHC Shanghai always attracts a sizeable group of UK exhibitors and visitors and this year was no exception. Some 60 UK brands, operating in the dairy, alcoholic drinks, beverages, tea, coffee, confectionery and snack sectors, all took part in FHC sector initiatives during the week of 11th – 15th November. Alongside this, CBBC had a strong programme of content and events to maximise UK companies’ presence in the market during that busy week.

Singles Day (11 November) saw the CBBC food and drink sector team lead UK companies on a retail safari through four of the leading grocery stores in Shanghai. Store managers and procurement leads at G Super, Ole, City Super and Alibaba’s “new retail” format Freshhippo met with UK visitors to introduce the stores’ operations and discuss the demand for imported products.

UK products on the shelves of these Shanghai retailers are still limited to spirits, snacks, cheese and children’s nutrition and the message from all hosts reinforced the need for more variety in order to cover hot commodities in the Chinese market such as other dairy, high protein products and a wider variety of snacks.

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On the last day of FHC, the question of how to succeed in China’s super competitive grocery space and reach millennial and younger consumers beyond the first-tier cities was among the topics discussed at a CBBC masterclass with RedFern Digital and omni-channel marketing group Pingcoo.

UK companies had the opportunity to deep dive into the purchasing habits of “small-town youth” and learn why now is the best time to start focusing on regional centres beyond the biggest metropolises. Both speakers emphasised the need for personalisation and the relevance to China of products being launched. Personalisation will no longer be an option but a requirement for foreign brands, according to Ryan Molloy, CEO of RedFern Digital.

As the three-day FHC show was coming to an end some 20 UK companies were busily preparing to take part in CBBC’s Meet the Buyer programme. These included gin companies like Zymurgorium, Warner’s Distillery, Aribikie and Orkney Distilling, and Lye Cross, Somerdale and Grasslands Farming on the dairy side. Meanwhile, a cluster of leisure food and confectionary companies – Infinity Brands, Eat Real, Keat Chocolate and Park Cakes – and Rare Tea and Nairobi Coffee rounded off the UK offer with some distinctive products.

During the course of four very busy hours UK brands met with Chinese buyers across different channels – distributors, retailers and e-commerce platforms, including Summergate Wine and Spirits, Bakkavor, Namchow, TMall, G Super and many more. Penguin Guide, a mobile application with wide outreach and an authority on gourmet experiences and new food and drink products was present at the event to learn about UK brands, as was Whisky Magazine.

It was “the best-organised network session I’ve been to,” commented Michael Nield of Warner’s Distillery.

With FHC now looking to launch regional shows in Chengdu, Guangzhou and Tianjin next year, the food and drink sector is only getting busier. Trends in China change faster than anywhere in the world and the importance of first-hand market intelligence through market visits such as these around FHC cannot be emphasized enough.

For more information on the F&B sector, contact Antoaneta Becker at antoaneta.Becker@cbbc.org

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