UK cereal major Weetabix has revealed plans to build a presence in the Chinese market – aided by China food major Bright Food that held a 60% share in the company.
The company had started work on developing a line of products suited to Chinese consumer trends and eating habits that should be ready within two years, said Kevin Verbrugen, marketing manager for global brand development at Weetabix.
He told BakeryandSnacks.com the company’s in-house research and development team had been working closely with Weetabix’s consumer insights team to develop products that were relevant, as the company knew Weetabix with milk was not a traditional breakfast concept there.
'It is a huge and culturally very different market, and the Chinese have very different ways of eating breakfast,' says Verbrugen
“It is a huge and culturally very different market, and the Chinese have very different ways of eating breakfast. This takes a lot of time and effort to understand so that we can, over time, adapt our offering to suit their needs and tastes.”
He said the traditional Chinese breakfast was hot and savory, so Weetabix needed to adapt its offerings to suit these needs. He said that savory, familiar flavors like green tea could be an option for the Chinese market and that Weetabix would also adapt textures and aromas.
The challenge? Establishing appeal and recognition
'I don’t know if I see the Chinese cereal market taking off,' says Roy
However, James Roy, associate principal at China Market Research (CMR), said the Weetabix brand faced a number of challenges entering the Chinese market, the first being that it would be, pretty much, starting from scratch in terms of brand awareness.
“Weetabix itself is not something that has really got a presence or any kind of built-in appeal in the Chinese market,” Roy said.
On top of that, he said the brand faced a market that was not necessarily ready for the ready-to-eat breakfast cereal concept.
“It’s not something that people are all that used to eating. There’s not anything built in among the consumers here that would make breakfast cereal an automatic acceptance. I don’t know if I see the Chinese cereal market taking off.”
Roy said that CMR’s research had shown a desire for quick, convenient meals that could be eaten on-the-go and heated easily. “But that doesn’t necessarily say cereal to me,” he added.
Beyond RTE cereal
Verbrugen said it wasn’t just breakfast cereal Weetabix was looking at for its move into China.
“Interestingly, among aspirational young workers in the Shanghai region, it is our Alpen cereal bars that are proving popular. Snacking is a big part of the culture,” he said.
He said there were many consumers in China, particularly in the larger cities, whose busy lifestyles were an ideal match to some of Weetabix’s product offerings.
Roy agreed that cereal bars played into market trends in China. “Cereal bars appeal to the health angle because there’s a lot of snack foods on the Chinese market but a lot are very sugary or not particularly nutritious. Weetabix is talking about this aspirational young consumer group in cities, and it is right – they are very pressed for time. They need something to eat quickly, on the go, but want something that’s going to be decent for them; not just empty calories.”
Health and nutrition, while in its early stages in China, was something important to a large section of consumers, he said.
Moving to China would be impossible without Bright Food
Verbrugen said that a strategy to move into the Chinese market would have been impossible without its partnership with local food giant Bright Food.
“Having a partner such as Bright Food is a must for any British or Western company planning to enter a market like China. Their experience in helping navigate the consumer culture and the market is crucial, as is their existing infrastructure,” he said.
Roy agreed that the partnership with Bright would certainly help Weetabix in its venture into China.
“Bright has built-in solutions for a lot of the issues that international food companies have big challenges with in the Chinese market. It already has very strong market penetration, built-in distribution networks, strong brand recognition and a lot of production facilities – a lot of things that Weetabix won’t have to build from scratch. That saves them a lot of time and money,” he said.