Consumer always trade-off between several criteria when choosing a product. Beyond habits, brand or product availability, several dimensions are taken into account, consciously or unconsciously. In food for instance, taste, format, meal destination, origin, ingredients, price or value for money matter. In cosmetics, efficacy, sensoriality/pleasure, convenience and value for money will all play a role in choosing a product. And across all consumer goods categories, safety plays a significant role.
The quest for safe products has been on the rise worldwide for a couple of years and, even more so in China, due to safety issues that occurred in the past years in several industries (e.g., the milk formula scandal, concerns around fresh food quality, fake personal & skin care products, etc.)
The Covid19 crisis definitely accelerates the need for reassurance on safety across categories. However, for consumer goods, safety (安全) that literally translates as harmless (“no harm to health & wellbeing”) is a broad concept. It can be associated in consumers’ minds to a wide range of aspects, such as product composition (clean ingredients, no/limited number of additives such as preservatives or artificial flavoring, but also naturalness, with or without organic certification), product origin, manufacturing practices, packaging (basic hygiene and safety, of course, but also more sophisticated expressions of safety such as the trend for touchless products), certifications or seals, shelf-life. To name but a few.
Giants in different sectors have already laid out plans in response to growing safety concerns. 2 examples in the food & cosmetics industries:
- Consumers’ interest in “plant-based” meat is predicted to increase in China. In China, the Covid-19 has been associated with ‘animal mismanagement’ and concerns about meat safety have increased during this period. Veggie products have developed quickly since the beginning of the year.
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- In cosmetics, clean beauty brands are developing quickly. Drunk Elephant (acquired by Shiseido at the end of 2019), though still an emerging brand in China, has recently gained awareness. The communication of Drunk Elephant by KOLs & KOCs on social media like Red or Weibo focuses on ‘clean’ skincare formulae without the so-called ‘Suspicious 6’ (essential oils, silicones, chemical sunscreens, SLS, fragrance and dyes, and drying alcohols), which may cause harm to the skin.
Even though safety is confirmed to be a key purchase driver for many products, today and tomorrow, reassuring on safety will not be enough to convince and build loyalty among Chinese consumers, who are looking for a mix of safety reassurance and positive inside benefit.
Brands will have to be both rational & pragmatic on this dimension, while at the same time creative, daring and emotional, to stand out in an atomized market.
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