In this episode of the FNA Food and Beverage Trailblazers podcast, we speak to Dr Stefan Schmal, Founder of China’s Jooma which is best-known for being one of the country’s first almond yoghurt pioneers, and has recently also launched a new coconut yoghurt line.
Despite Dr Schmale’s German roots, he opted to launch Jooma in China as he believes that China is a ‘lighthouse’ for Asian food trends, and success here in the world’s largest country will pave the way to success in the world’s largest region.
“There is so much market potential here in China and Asia in general for the plant-based sector – in markets such as Europe or the US, plant-based foods are pretty mature already, but this region is basically still at the beginning,” he told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“Also, at the moment China has a sort of lighthouse role in the industry, the same way the US was for many years for Western countries - What works in China, many people will look at and try to copy in their countries, so definitely I felt that China is a good starting point.”
When it comes to conquering the local market though, Dr Schmale believes that it is not as straightforward as just producing a good quality product and depending on quality to sell well – on the contrary, different marketing strategies are required to draw in buyers at different stages.
“We know that 89% of Chinese consumers say that they need to do something in terms of a healthier diet, so here we have to explain why plant based products are healthier and better for them- this is different than in Western countries where consumers very often buy plant based products for sustainability reasons,” he said.
“Another important criteria in China is food safety which is a lot more important here than it is for example Europe, where things are just assumed and expected to be safe. Here, people really look at who makes it, what's the brand, do they trust the brand, what's the ingredient list and so on, which is very different and to reach first buyers, we have to convince them in all of these regards before they would even give the product a try.
“And then when it comes to repeat buyers, the most important fact is taste, taste, taste. There are some very health conscious people who will eat almost anything if it's healthy, but this is a very small group, not the real market at all – for most of the consumers, it is far more important to convince them of the good taste and mouthfeel and meet their expectations, which have been formed over many years by dairy milk based yoghurt.”
He also highlighted that despite China’s immense potential for the plant-based market, it must also be remembered that it also comes with some of the toughest market challenges in the world.
“For plant-based products, another challenge we face is that of history and culture – many people here value animal-based products higher due to these historical and cultural reasons, so if a plant-based product is priced higher than others, it is very difficult to explain to such consumers why for example high-quality coconut cream costs more than milk,” said Dr Schmale.
“Many parents still [misunderstand] that children need a lot of meat and animal based products to grow well, and especially the elderly and those in rural areas still hold such a view – one study showed for example that in rural areas, many people still think that a big belly is a sign of good health.
“In many markets, flexitarians are the ones making the largest difference for the plant-based sector, and we believe this will be the same here so we have to reach this group in China as if they follow very traditional, often wrong opinions things will be very difficult for us – and this is a big challenge which we face here.”
Listen to the podcast above to find out more.