China’s Chocolate Market Dominated by Foreign Brands

China’s Chocolate Market Dominated by Foreign Brands

Foreign chocolate brands such as Dove, Cadbury and Hershey’s have now captured about 70% of the Chinese chocolate market. As Barry Callebaut, the world’s largest chocolate manufacturer with 25% of the global market, recently opened its first chocolate factory in China in Suzhou City, the top 20 chocolate companies in the world have now all entered the Chinese market. But in the face of global competition, China’s local chocolate companies have been further suppressed down the value chain.

Second largest chocolate market

As the CHF 4 billion-revenue-per-year Barry Callebaut set up its first production line in Suzhou, a complete multinational chocolate industry chain is also emerging. Industry insiders suggested that this would be a blow to local Chinese chocolate companies in this globalized competition. It further indicated that keeping up with international competition is particularly important, or the Chinese industry chain will become even more vulnerable.

In recent years, the global chocolate market has notably slowed down, with only 2-3% growth per annum. This is mainly because per capita chocolate consumption in developed countries is already at a high level, averaging 11 kg. On the other hand, China’s per capita chocolate consumption is only 0.1 kg, and its domestic chocolate market has been growing at a staggering 10-15% per year, with an estimated market potential of US$2.7 billion. Thus China has become the world’s second biggest chocolate market only behind the US. The world’s top 20 chocolate companies have all entered China, and there are more than 70 imported or JV chocolate brands in today’s Chinese market.

Barry Callebaut has made it clear that they are coming to share and participate in China’s economic growth. It plans to build the Suzhou factory into the largest among its 38 factories globally, and achieve a 6-fold sales increase in the next five years via the Suzhou factory’s high capacity. “We hope we can fully utilise this factory’s capacity to rapidly increase output from 25,000 tons to 75,000 tons, making it the world’s largest chocolate factory,” said Barry Callebaut CEO Patrick De Maeseneire.

Multinational ambitions

It is understood that Barry Callebaut’s new plant in Suzhou will become the company’s Asia-Pacific headquarter, as well as a sales network centre for serving China and multinational food manufacturers and specialised customers. Major brands, such as Cadbury, Hershey’s and Nestle, all currently have large quantity of outsourcing manufacturing contracts with Barry Callebaut, whose OEM output of cocoa liquor and chocolate products amounts to 15-20% of each of the three major brands’ annual output. So the Swiss Barry Callebaut is indeed the Big Brother of the global chocolate industry.

In fact, even before the arrival of Barry Callebaut, China’s local chocolate companies had already been losing market shares to multinational competitors. The US Hershey’s has determined to plough the Chinese market, planning to achieve 23% share of the local market by 2010 and the runner-up position in China. Meanwhile, Korean and Japanese chocolate producers are also accelerating their entry into the Chinese market.

Local companies not in the local market

Although the rapidly growing Chinese chocolate market is good news for its local chocolate companies, Chinese consumers today are frequently referring to foreign brands such as Dove, Cadbury, Hershey’s and Ferrero but seldom mentioning local brands.

As a foreign product, China only has a chocolate manufacturing history of less than 50 years, so there is inevitable gap behind foreign brands in terms of production techniques and technologies. Due to inappropriate processing equipment and incomplete production facilities, product quality assurance is difficult for many local chocolate companies. Furthermore, most Chinese chocolate companies are weak in product R&D, resulting in slow product changes and updates. At present, most local chocolate companies are stuck in an embarrassing situation of low product quality.

The above industry issues have costed local companies’ opportunities to participate in the competition for the Chinese chocolate market. Multinational chocolate brands have come to the Chinese market one by one since the 1990s, and now they are in a dominant market position. With their considerable financial power, multinationals can play their technological and cultural cards, as well as promoting their premium quality and unique tastes, to rapidly capture the Chinese market.

As Barry Callebaut finally entered the Chinese market, its Suzhou factory will make chocolate production even cheaper for multinational brands. For local Chinese companies that are mostly in the low-end market, they may no longer hold this market segment firm.

Keep up with the globalization

Statistics showed that there are about 63 large-scale local chocolate companies in China, with annual production of 150,000 tons. Statistics from industry associations also revealed that China currently has about 250 chocolate companies in total.

Industry insiders pointed out that the Chinese food and beverage industry is a highly and internationally competitive market. The vast potential of China’s chocolate market is not only for foreign brands, but is also laid in front of local chocolate producers. The local chocolate industry is now in a structural change and survival-of-the-fittest stage, and no doubt the entry of foreign brands will present challenges to the local industry. But if local chocolate companies can participate in this international competition, it could not only drive the chocolate demand from Chinese consumers, but also promote development of China’s chocolate market.

Local Chinese chocolate companies need to constantly improve their product quality, select finer raw ingredients, upgrade production facilities, adopt international technologies, enhance product innovation and brand management. Only then can they compete with multinational companies on a level-playing field, and make a breakthrough in this foreign-dominated Chinese chocolate market.

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