Ankush at large

Kiwis must capitalise on China by developing Brand NZ

By Ankush Chibber

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: New zealand, Hong kong, China

Kiwis must capitalise on China by developing Brand NZ
The last time I went to China was last year, to visit an old friend who had moved to Shenzhen by marriage. The Chinese government might tout Shenzhen as a Tier-I city, but if your benchmark is Hong Kong, which is immediately to its south, you would probably list it a notch lower. 

I liked Shenzhen. It has a nice mix of the old and the new, much like Delhi and Bangalore (it will not ever be Bengaluru for me, ever). It had a few great places to eat and drink, and the populace was dominated by young urban types. My friends were happy there. 

Because I was in the midst of my reporting stint for this website at the time, by habit and curiosity I would make it a point to scan the store shelves. I had earlier been reporting on how Kiwi and Australian foods were dominating China’s middle-class consumption—the former especially—and I just had to see it for myself.

To my surprise, I didn’t see much more than cheese, milk, infant formula and beef across a total of four to five brands. Sure, I was in a busy supermarket, and these foods were flying off the shelf, but even so, there were only five brands Australian or Kiwi brands there. 

And then it struck me:  had I been reporting a version of the reality?

I think New Zealand has missed an opportunity even as some of the country’s firms have taken and held on to it with both hands. 

Let me explain it in terms of wine. The Chinese love wine; indeed, they are the biggest market for wine in the world outside of a stalling Europe as a whole. But within this market, they yearn for French wine. Because that is what they perceive the best wine to be—it has to be French. Every other winemaker is playing catch-up. And probably will continue to. 

Exactly in the same way, New Zealand had and probably still has a big opportunity to market its entire industry to China on the basis of what the current upper-middle-class there craves the most: safety.

The Chinese know that Kiwi milk and infant formula is the safest and they are single handedly driving that market for a bunch of Kiwi dairies. They perceive the “Made in New Zealand” label to be a mark—an assurance that their child will not land up in a hospital from consuming it and will be getting the highest nutrition to be found in a tetrapak. 

My point is make that “Made in New Zealand’ label a brand. Like Scotch Whiskey is to Scotland, like Swiss Chocolates is to Switzerland. And leverage the hell out of it. 

Use this brand, which has a strong connect with the Chinese in milk and some meats, and cross-fertilise it across the industry. This will enable the smaller players, other food segments and the outliers, who have not yet been able to establish themselves in the Chinese market to do so. These “others” don’t have the bandwidth or sometimes the funds to carve and develop a market for themselves in China alone. But under this one umbrella, they will.

The New Zealand brand is currently well regarded but fragmented in China. There is a need for consolidation, a common strategy towards one common goal: for “Made in New Zealand” to stand for high quality, safe food.

This will unlock tremendous value for the Kiwi food industry in China by opening up other segments and also increasing the number of brands in existing segments. Plus, with this one umbrella, the industry will be able to weather better the storms that China’s market will bring, like regulations changing haphazardly, corrupt officials, unreliable trading partners and challenges from other countries.

It really is the way to go if the Kiwi industry is really serious about China.

Have your say: Do you agree with Ankush, or should New Zealand companies maintain their approach to business in China. Let us know in the comments below.

Related topics: Markets

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