San Chun lays claim to being the pioneer of the 烤奶皮 snack, which can be directly translated as ‘baked milk crust’ or ‘baked milk skin’.
The traditional version of milk crust/milk skin in China hails from Inner Mongolia and Tibet, formed when milk is boiled and the milk proteins denature to coagulate with milk fat to form a film on the top of the liquid, which is then dried for consumption.
San Chun’s claim to fame lies in its unique baking technology, which transforms the milk crust into a thin, crispy snack reminiscent of a potato chip – the baked milk crust that went viral locally during its initial launch.
“We created this product category a few years back and till this day we still hold 90% of the national market share,” San Chun CEO Yuanhang Zhang told FoodNavigator-Asia during the Food and Beverage Innovation Forum (FBIF) in Shenzhen, China.
“The key to establishing this stronghold has really been thinking far out of the box – many brands in the food and beverage sector today are innovating, but they are also following the flow when it comes to product development and then trying to compete by pricing.
“This is not the way we saw for progressing, and instead we decided to’猎奇’ which essentially means a strong focus on things that are unique, strange, unusual and unexpected.
“This way, products developed will immediately become consumers’ first choice in the category as it is completely new, as opposed to entering a saturated category where consumers have many choices available.”
This sort of out of the box thinking cannot just be blindly applied though, as it still needs to be applicable to consumer demands in order to sell well – and this is where keeping a close eye on trends can come in handy.
“Meeting consumer trends is crucial in any innovation, and means that we really need to have a finger on the pulse of what is going on in the industry,” he added.
“For example, in China we have been seeing many consumers drinking more milk nowadays due to a variety of reasons, and identified this as a key trend to capitalise on.
“With this new milk consumption habit formed, it meant that demand for milk and related nutrition also increased, which meant that the potential for milk-related products also increased – and that is what we went with.”
From a local business initially selling online only, San Chun has now developed into a nationwide brand that is almost synonymous with the baked milk crust snack and has developed its distribution channels into major supermarkets and stores all over the country.
Education not always the answer
One other major consideration for new product development is of course the consumer base, and here Zhang stressed that there is a need to balance the pros and cons of investing to educate an as-yet unaccepting consumer demographic.
“I would say that having an existing consumer group for your product to target will make marketing a lot easier as there is a precise goal and strategy that can be laid out,” he said.
“There are those who say that even if there isn’t, it is always possible to educate the consumers and attract new followers – but it is important to keep in mind that not every company has the finances to pour a lot of investment into this marketing and education, with the returns not always turning out that great.”
He also highlighted that all brands that want to sell on any online platform need to ‘realistically’ understand that it is a necessity to create content and attract followers to be consumers – an endeavour which should be handled in-house as much as possible to reduce dependence on external who may not understand the brand as deeply.