Marketing key for General Mills in China

3 December 2012

BEIJING General Mills, the food group, believes branding, consumer insights and monitoring trends will prove essential for succeeding with China's growing audience of middle class buyers.

Speaking to Jing Daily, Gary Chu, the president of General Mills Greater China, argued the landscape in China is uniquely complex, with the nation hosting local, regional and global brands and companies.

"China is very brand sensitive, and branding is a key part of the business," he added. "Unlike the US, where there are a few brands or manufacturers that dominate the market, in China brands come and go, and you have many brands from different manufacturers and countries."

Making progress in this climate requires detailed insights into the middle class, a group that could outnumber the US equivalent in numerical terms by 2025.

"In China today, the middle-income class is the key consumer segment that you must understand. It's very dynamic. China's consumer dynamic changes every two or three years, unlike the US in which it is very settled," he said.

"We're assuming China's income [and] social structure is going to be like the United States, where the middle class will be the most powerful representative class, both politically and economically."

In pursuing this goal, it is crucial to determine what members of this audience desire, and the benefits brands can offer in terms of being safe, reliable, trustworthy, enjoyable, convenient and nutritious.

"Food is cultural, a culture rooted in history. Our job is not to change culture," Chu said. "It's more to understand the culture, understand their habits, connecting with them to understand what they want. This is the most important part."

Among the core trends reshaping the market at present is the ageing population, meaning developing products which are low in sugar, sodium and fat but offer more fibre are a key priority.

The evolution of a more rapid pace of life also means convenience has assumed greater importance, as many shoppers are spending less time cooking but still want to eat healthily.

Equally, young consumers have increasingly diverse diets, eating Japanese, Italian, Korean and Mexican foods. Chu said: "We don't only focus on our major categories, but we're developing ethnic foods."

He added: "Managing China is like managing the entirety of Europe. That's why we call it 'One country, many markets' - you must have the agility to deal with different situations, dynamics, trades, consumer habits [and] shopping habits."

Data sourced from Jing Daily; additional content by Warc staff