‘Hedonic Expectations’: How to drive healthy drinks sales in China


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Photo: Hirotomot/Flickr
Photo: Hirotomot/Flickr

Related tags Food Nutrition

The Chinese place more trust in big beverage brands to deliver safe products, link ‘naturalness’ to single-flavor varieties and are increasingly willing to pay more for quality, safety and nutrition.

That’s according to a study published in the February 2014 issue of the journal Appetite, ​which claims to break new ground by looking into how personal values influence Chinese consumers’ healthy beverage buying decisions, upon the basis of product attributes and personal values.

Pui Yee Lee et al. organized six focus groups in Tier 2 city Hangzhou, in Eastern China, where participants filled in 570 surveys to identify these different factors – they found that food safety was the foremost concern for Chinese choosing healthy drinks.

This keyed into a preference for big brands as guarantors of beverage safety: “I think well-known brands are more trustable as they are large manufacturers, have a social responsibility and money to invest in food production,”​ said one focus group participant.

The authors used the classic 'Four Ps' framework to sum up the marketing implications of their findings, warning that successful Chinese market entry required the correct balance of each.


The focus groups showed that Chinese consumers deem ‘security’ highly important as a value influencing consumption of healthy drinks.

“Food manufacturers could consider using natural ingredient (e.g. natural sweetener, colors, aromas, etc.)…and labelling products accordingly (e.g. additive free),”​ Yee Lee et al. write.

“Having information about the nutrition labels and composition table (e.g. vitamin content) on the product packaging will increase the chance that Chinese consumers would consider these products to be safer for consumption,”​ they add.

The team also suggest online traceability systems that allow consumers to trace the important production stages and improve their confidence in products.

‘Hedonism’ was another value that the researchers said Chinese consumers appreciate.

“Catering to the Chinese consumers’ taste buds is critical to ensure product success in China. Apart from developing safer, more natural and healthier, food product options…the product must still live up to its hedonic expectations,”​ Yee Lee et al. said.


With ‘security’ the dominant value Chinese consumers perceive when buying healthy drinks, the academics said the credibility of the retail outlet in question was “heavily relied upon to confirm that the product is genuinely safe and of premium quality”.

“So in terms of distribution…in China, countries exporting food are best to target major supermarket retailers such as foreign (Carrefour and Wal-Mart) and local (Lianhua and Nonggongshang) supermarkets,”​ Yee Lee and her colleagues write.

“These major outlets are considered trustable sources that sell quality and safe food products…the product turnover is fast and consumers are able to obtain a food product that is closer to the manufacturing date, again something that Chinese consumers regarded as fresher and safer.”


Price is no longer the barrier it once was in China, the academics found. “The increasing concern for food safety appears to have changed many Chinese consumers’ minds and they are now turning to more expensive but safer, healthier food products,”​ they write.

Accordingly, Yee Lee et al. suggest setting import prices 10-30% higher than local brands, given an emerging segment of more affluent consumers “willing to pay a modest premium for nutritious, safe and quality food products”.


Given that Chinese consumers value security and benevolence, the academics explain that they tend to choose known brands even if they are of a lower quality than other unfamiliar brands.

Yee Lee et al. suggest that advertisements on TV, radio, internet or in print could include images of production facilities, for instance, to show transparency and build trust.

“Given that benevolence is important in relation to Chinese consumers’ food consumption decisions, promotion of healthy drinks should also emphasize that they are natural and can provide health benefits to the family – e.g. a healthy drink that can enhance a child’s growth, is good for mum and dad’s heart health”.

Title: ​‘The role of personal values in Chinese consumers’ food consumption decisions’

Authors:​ Yee Lee, P., Lusk, K., Mirosa, M., Indrawati, O.

Source: Appetite​, Volume 73, February 1 2014, pp.95-104 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2013.11.001

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