The Chinese consumer has traditionally been viewed as an aspirational buyer of western luxury brands. But as China’s middle class matures it is also becoming more discerning, which increasingly favours local brands who know the local market and match western brands on quality and surpass them on value for money. Fidelity China Consumer Fund portfolio manager Hyomi Jie investigates how the trend towards premiumisation is creating new opportunities among local companies.
The consumer story has been a dominant theme in China for some time, but the dynamics of this are changing. Since the turn of the century China has seen tremendous growth in wealth due to better paid jobs. This was initially led by international businesses setting up in China to take advantage of low wages and a large workforce, but now we see local companies adapting and innovating to become industry leaders in their own right and cater for a local population with greater earnings power.
This first wave of the consumer story saw people simply buying everyday goods like TVs, fridges and cars. While there are still vast untapped markets here, such as rural China, we are also entering a new stage of consumption - services and premiumisation.
Many consumers have that TV or fridge, and they do not need another. Now people want to use their hard-earned cash for experiences such as eating out and travel, and for better products. This combined with higher income, better quality of living, higher sophistication and greater choice, is driving a change in consumer trends.
These same consumers are now looking to trade up, which means consumer premiumisation and greater brand awareness. The interesting nuance is that there are several industries where local Chinese firms are becoming the leading brand or premium product due to having a deeper understanding of the local market and being able to cater to local customs and taste.
International brands continue to be popular in areas like autos. There are also a small number of product categories which just fail to gain customers' trust, especially infant milk formula and wine. It has been interesting to note recently that one of China's biggest dairy company's, Mengniu Dairy, announced a bid to acquire 100% of Bellamy's, a popular Australian organic infant formula company. This will enable Mengniu Dairy to see the economic benefits of selling a premium foreign brand to domestic consumers.
On the whole, however, Chinese consumers have a growing appetite for local brands as they become increasingly affluent and proud of their own culture. People are willing to pay more for higher quality everyday items like tissues and paper made of organic materials like bamboo.
This has not gone unnoticed, and Chinese companies are responding by implementing multi-pricing strategies. For example, China's largest brewer, CR Beer, now has a number of brands in its portfolio that taps in to different market segments and generates a desire for customers to purchase the next tier up.
Domestic fashion companies are also taking notice and are building premium lines for their brands. Sports company Li Ning, a company well-known in China for functional sportswear, has developed a high-end streetwear line that debuted during New York Fashion Week in 2018. This approach has helped boost sales and its share price.
From Made in China to Designed in China
Another company is JNBY who has one of the biggest shares among domestic designers in the affordable luxury market and has successfully been able to adapt to fast changing fashion trends. JNBY has also built a loyal and wealthy following here with nearly three million people in its membership programme: shoppers who still spend even when the economic climate is a little weaker. JNBY's WeChat account is a key way to reach customers; they invite everyday customers to model their clothes and send in pictures. The company then reposts photos as a way to interact with their shoppers and gain authentic promotion at the same time.
Premiumisation is a trend that extends right across the consumer sector, from beer to home appliances to fashion, and we are just at the start of the journey. We are moving from ‘Made In China' to ‘Designed and Created In China'.
This feature comes from a new series of Asia focused thought-leadership from Fidelity. You can view more content covering a broad range of investment ideas from across the region from the links below.
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