In the second of three instalments from Proper Cornish’s marketing director, he travels to Shanghai on a bakery mission – to meet distributors, buyers and agencies.
“Well, to say I’ve been on a learning curve over the last week would be an understatement. I have had the most amazing week, travelling around Shanghai and further afield, from visiting China’s largest online retailer JD.com to forays into local cuisine. I had a lot of meetings with potential new customers to talk about Furniss biscuits, and learned fast about the opportunities in China.
“The trip has been a real testament to Santander’s relationship with businesses in China, and we’ve been granted access to companies and contacts that, in another situation, it would have been very tricky to reach.
“An example of this is our visit to JD.com in Beijing, the second-largest e-commerce site in the country. This platform has been talked about in pretty much every meeting we’ve had recently, and is a force to be reckoned with in the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) market. The offices we visited had 10,000 employees, and we were told that the average age was 27 years old, with this distinctly millennial workforce helping to bring some phenomenal digital innovations to the table.
“Last Tuesday we visited Nanjing, the capital of China’s eastern Jiangsu province. Nanjing has a population of over 8m and sits in a province with over 70m residents – more people than the whole of the UK. Even smaller cities like this are changing very fast, with consumerism really taking hold. And many traditional steel manufacturing businesses are turning to import over manufacture.
“Convenience is a big growth area in China – one company we met had stores which see a footfall of 5,000 people a day – in a sector where Furniss biscuits sits very naturally. I learnt huge amounts about the online shopping culture and delivery model for online products over here too, much of which is managed by the thousands of scooters that dart about the cities. In contrast to the UK, because the population is so dense in the cities here, this method is cost-effective for this market.
“Contrary to expectations, our business meetings weren’t as formal as we thought they might be and, in many cases, the Chinese wish to move quickly on getting deals done. Typically, the Chinese business culture is a much slower process of relationship building. However, with a strong demand for FMCG and this sector growing at a rate of 10% (compared to the overall GDP Chinese growth rate of 6%) many businesses seem to have adopted a speedier process to help fulfil customers’ needs.
“On a personal level, I and the rest of delegates on the trip felt completely safe in Shanghai, and the people were resoundingly helpful and polite. The food was fantastic too, with some very unusual delicacies we couldn’t resist, such as fried bullfrog – delicious!”