Food products "going viral" online is an extremely interesting phenomenon here in China. We actually call it "网红食品". So what's the recipe to make a successful viral food product in China? What are the key ingredients that we need in order to generate the consumer interest we need and leverage the power of China's social media?
We have summarized them into product differentiation, leveraging KOLs, developing new packaging, labeling, brand names and engaging online content. These are all very important now to sway public opinion. But, we should be warned, the power of China's social media is a double-edged sword and although we have many enterprises that have leveraged its power to great success, there's still an equal number of high profile cautionary tales that are related to regulatory compliance and food safety violations which have negatively impacted food enterprises and their success here in China. Check the key examples below to get a better idea of what a viral food product can look like in this country.
No.1 "dirty bread"
This was best known for having sold over 12,000 pieces in one minute on Yunji's Platform. This bread got the name due to its appearance, with its top covered in chocolate syrup and powder. In China, the bread is so popular consumers are willing to queue for up to 3 hours just to get one piece. Taking advantage of the massive demand, some less scrupulous retailers even managed to sell for about 20 dollars one piece.
Besides interesting names, creative or fancy packaging is also very important. Kedi Dairy is a good example here. If we look at the design, it's actually a simple transparent package, with very low production cost. By allowing customers to see the milk inside the package this gives a sense of safety and high quality, although it's just normal milk. In 2017, Kedi earned 1 billion RMB in revenue, with 54% year-on-year growth the increase in sales directly correlating with the release of new packaging.
Chinese people tend to really prefer fancy looking products, for example, Heytea. This tea beverage became an overnight sensation in China due to its visual appeal and unique aesthetics, especially amongst young girls. Its popularity was further propelled by a selfie trend of teenagers taking photos with this beautiful tea and then posting it on their social media. A tip for enterprises, you may consider designing your packages for a similar marketing scene. For example, when the girls hold the Heytea product, it can accentuate the beauty of their hands, which is a very high selling point here in China.
The appeal of trendy food doesn't really last too long. Once the hype subsides it often gives way to concerns about food safety. Once products are added to the SAMR'S or GAC's food inspection blacklist, their market performance can be negatively impacted. For example, Devondale milk. It performed very well on e-commerce platforms like Tmall several years ago. But it has not really done that well in recent years due to a number of high profile regulatory compliance violations which have negatively influenced consumer preference. It was listed in the AQSIQ blacklist three times over 6 months in 2017 due to expired products. They also got complaints from consumers due to the quality of the milk. Another famous Thai snack Tao Kae Noi, which was listed for its excessive amount of E-coli. And Godiva chocolate, very famous, received the hit for non-compliant use of the additive potassium sorbate.
So, after all, product quality is the key to the success and constant development for brands. A viral food product in China must tick all the right boxes to drive consumer demand in terms of its sensory appeal and the product aesthetics but if you want long term success, then we must be backing this up by the high product quality, safety and full regulatory compliance.