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Food Marketing to Millennial Parents: A China Perspective

Irene Ling, Manager, Strategic Insight & Impact, MSLGROUP China

In China, millennials make up a third of the total population (31%) in the nation. This generation grew up during a period of particular turbulence; the nation went through the economic reform, started the one-child policy, and undertook rapid urbanization to become the world’s second largest economy today.

Chinese millennials’ upbringing in this era has given them very different behaviors and experiences when compared to their predecessors. Often stereotyped as being self-obsessive, Chinese millennials on the contrary can place priorities on their own family — especially when they themselves become parents.

Almost 2 in 5 (38%) millennial mums ranked a blissful marriage and family as being their top desired compliment from others. Hence, for food brands that are targeting the Chinese millennial ‘parents’ — what are the exact values to focus on in order to appeal, and attract this particular segment of consumers?

Irene Ling - China Millennial Parents

Build Brand Trust (and deliver on it!)

Safety concern(s) is one of the top priorities among Chinese consumers. Considering the number of food safety scandals over the past years (most notably the tainted milk scandal in 2008), Chinese consumers have been extremely cautious about their product choices, and continue to look out for safety issues being exposed in the media.

77% of millennial mums are worried about the unsafe ingredients used in baby food, and 64% of younger millennials aged 20-29 years are likely to continue with the mother and baby care brands that they are familiar with, which is the highest across different product categories. This implies that food brands need to make sure their products deliver on their claims, as brand trust plays an important role. Highlight safety in communications, such as list of ingredient origin printed on the packaging and international food certificates would help mums to justify the quality of the products.

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Chinese e-commerce platforms like Taobao and Jingdong include a significant of maternal and infant products in their offering.

Ensure millennial parents that the ‘best care’ is available for their children

The relaxation of the one-child policy in China not only helped stimulate/promote growth of the consumer base, but also contributed to the growth of baby care products. Expenditure on child-related products is expected to rise exponentially – parents are increasingly more willing to spend on their child (which exemplifies the modern child-rearing philosophy in China), i.e. to meet material needs, and provide the best care that they can afford.

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With higher disposable incomes, millennial parents are also willing to pay a premium for personalization; for example, infant formula designed for specific health issues such as reduced allergen is more appealing to parents.

Motivate millennial parents to share and spread the love digitally

Chinese millennials are among the first in the country to truly ‘get connected’ with the outside world via the convenience of internet, and have first hand experienced the rise of social media, which has now become an essential part of their lives.

Millennial mums like to exchange parenting tips with other mums on social media. At the same time, they also feel the extra pressure to “show off” their life and compare with others. When other parents buy or recommend a specific baby food brand or product on social media, they tend to buy the same products and advocate them on social media. They’re also more receptive to online reviews from other mums, which they believe are more trustworthy than recommendation from professionals. This implies that the purchase decision is heavily influenced by social media. Food brands can tap social media to reach out to the millennial parents.

Irene Ling - China Millennial Parents 03For example, food brands can engage with parenting KOLs (e.g. bloggers) for product trials and peer recommendations. One of the most popular social media platforms in China, WeChat, now also allows brands to push targeted messages to their specific followers based on their personal preference and engagement with the brand.

Capturing the attention – and loyalty – of this burgeoning and very important decision-making section of the population will be crucial for food brands, if they intend to establish themselves as leaders of the food revolution.

This article is a part of MSLGROUP’s report The Future of Food Communications: Winning Share of Mouth in the Conversation Age.

Irene LingIrene joined the Strategic Insights & Imapct team in 2015 as the manager of MSLGROUP’s China Center of Excellence. She manages the industry-leading subscriptions to market research, data and information providers and provides support in analysis and consulting to offices in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Prior to joining MSLGROUP, Irene worked in YouGov Asia Pacific in Shanghai where she was responsible for client servicing and supervised research projects delivery in China and Hong Kong.


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