FBIF 2019

China’s chickpea challenge: Online backing driving sales for industry heavyweights’ snack products

By Tingmin Koe

- Last updated on GMT

PavoMea's series of Chick Pea Crisps come in attractive packaging designs.
PavoMea's series of Chick Pea Crisps come in attractive packaging designs.

Related tags Snacks Chickpea Cracker

Chickpeas are not commonly consumed in China, but PavoMea Chick Pea Crisp has gone viral after fervent support from consumers online and via social media.

Unbeknown to some, PavoMea was started by former industry heavy-weights. For instance, its CEO and founder Ricky Gao, was previously PepsiCo’s China marketing director. One of the directors from the innovation department also came from one of Korea’s largest food firm – Orion Confectionery.

Coming in four different flavours - including seaweed wasabi, pistachio, and charcoal spice - the product received “Best Bakery Award” at the Hello Foods Prize organised by the Food and Beverage Innovation Forum 2019, which was held in Hangzhou last week.

FoodNavigator-Asia ​caught up with the general manager of the company’s operations in Eastern China, Coco Tao, after the award ceremony, to find out more about Chinese consumers’ perception of chickpeas and the story behind its product.

“In China, the consumption of chickpeas are perhaps more familiar with the vegetarians, and chick peas are usually added into salads or soup. To use chickpeas as the main ingredient for a snacks product, we are indeed the first to do so,” ​Tao said.

She added that options such as oat and grains were considered initially, but chickpeas stood out eventually.

“Actually, we started out as a dessert store, selling beverages, bakery and snacks. At some point in time, some customers commended our crispy snacks, but they could only eat it when they visit our shops.

“That’s when we saw an opportunity, where we could make packaged snacks. But to make the exact replica of that particular item, we feel that there is no differentiation from existing packaged snacks. Thus, we decided to use chickpeas,”​ she said.

Its initial supporters were the regulars at its dessert stores. Eventually, it hit the jackpot when its early supporters shared about it on the social media, especially on The Little Red Book and rating site Dianping.

“The Chinese consumers tend to chase after items that are hot on the social media and internet. They feel that they are not catching up with times if they have not eaten or heard of a particular new but popular item.”

Today, the younger generation, comprising of students and young adults are the main consumer group, and was overwhelmingly popular with the female consumers, with a gender ratio of 8 to 2. 

Manual production

Although demand is high, the firm has to be selective in its sales channels, as the Chick Pea Crisp product is manually made.

The channels include both online and offline, with the latter comprising of more than 1,000 retail stores and the firm’s three dessert stores in Beijing.

“Our production capacity is not high, because the products are manually-made, we are unable to scale up the production. Thus, we need to be selective with our sales channels,”​ Tao said.

At present, there are three factories producing the product.

As for the overseas market, she said that the firm’s current priority was not to focus on exports, but that it was open to working with overseas firms who have expressed interest in them.    

Chickpeas is only the start

Led by the success of the chickpeas series, the firm now plans to leverage on the new-found popularity and introduce non-chickpea snacks.

“We want to use chickpeas as a breakthrough, but we do not want to restrict ourselves with using only chickpeas either. We want to produce even more, so long as they are tasty, fun, and visually attractive,”​ she said.

Some ingredients that it has explored include quinoa and oat. For existing products, the firm will soon embark on a texture upgrade.

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