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China Wants Our Chocolate?

22 May

If you’ve been paying attention to the business news in any publication, blog or newscast, you know that in terms of consumerism, China is big. And China is getting bigger. In a country of 1.3 billion people, there are now over one million millionaires, and they like the good life. They play golf, maintain multiple bank accounts, buy electronics and fine jewelry and travel internationally. Oh, and they are interested in chocolate. Not ravenously, obsessively interested just yet. But it’s coming. The signs are there, including the World Chocolate Wonderland in Shanghai, opened in 2011, where everything from Ming-era vases to the Qin Shi Huang Terra Cotta Army is crafted in chocolate,

Lawrence Allen, a business leader, author and former executive with both Hershey and Nestlé, wrote a fascinating book on chocolate and the Chinese; specifically, the almost limitless market offered in this vast country versus how to market a product so loved in so much of the rest of the world to a population virtually unaware of its existence until the mid 1990s. The book, Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle for the Hearts, Minds and Wallets of China’s Consumers (AMACOM, 2009) is not merely how the “Big Five” confectioners brought their products to Chinese consumers, who are certainly an eager and interested population. It’s about formulating new products to cater to their specific tastes, managing the minutiae of government regulations, building and staffing new factories, distribution strategies, pricing and ultimately learning (or not) that in order to manage expectations in such a huge new market, the old strategies were often of little or no use. It was not simply a matter of throwing a big-money, mass marketing campaign out there, hoping it would stick with consumers. China is not just big, it’s changing very fast, as Allen reminds us:

Despite China’s radical transformation over the past three decades, it is still a work in progress. In the last few decades there has been a historic mass economic migration in terms of consumer power that has made hundreds of millions of Chinese consumers physically, culturally, and financially accessible to multinational companies. As China’s distribution infrastructure and quality retail environments continue to penetrate ever deeper into the country, with each new air-conditioned supermarket that opens, tens of thousands of people will suddenly have access to chocolate for the first time. As this process continues, even if 20 million of China’s near billion inaccessible consumers emerge each year to become accessible consumers, it will take another half-century for all of China’s citizens to make this passage.”

If you want to find out more about where chocolate is (literally) going next, Allen’s book charts that path. He keeps the technical and economic jargon simple and tells the story from an insider’s view, with an eye towards keeping the reader who loves all things either chocolate or Chinese interested.

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And speaking of where chocolate has been: two more from my Canadian stash:

72% Rogers Darker Chocolate: “Darker” meaning darker than some of the other bars in their line. This is pure Canadian kitsch, from the raised maple leaf on alternating squares to the fact that it’s made in Canada. It’s a very sweet bar (sugar is the second ingredient) with good snap  and a somewhat acidic finish. It’s not life-changing, but it is a respectable bar.

Dolfin 70%: This bar from Belgium isn’t just contained in the usual rip-open plastic. It’s encased in a classy envelope-style plastic wrap as well. Presentation means everything and takes nothing away from this slightly bitter beauty, which hits all the right notes of plum, citrus and earth.

 

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