The Whittaker’s chocolate empire is continuing to soar with a growing Asian profile.
Head of international markets Matt Whittaker said the Porirua-based company exports to seven Asian countries, but its strongest market focus is on China given the size of the market and its changing demographics.
Since August, the Kiwi chocolate company has extended its presence in China, selling in 1,500 stores across Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou.
“We see there is growing consumer preference in China for premium chocolate, as well as a broader preference for food products of New Zealand provenance,” Whittaker said.
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Despite this, last year Euromonitor report found there was a slump in chocolate consumption.
Whittaker said although this was a speed bump for the business, their brand is marketed as a premium product and with the rapidly growing wealthy middle class, China continues to be a favourable market. The Economist Intelligence Unit expects the middle class population to grow by 5.5 per cent each year until 2030.
He said “in the big picture, China is still very much a big market for the business”.
Understanding consumer behaviour and finding the right market partners have been crucial in the chocolatier’s Asian expansion.
Whittaker said eating habits in China are a lot different to New Zealand. In 2013 a Bloomberg survey found New Zealanders were some of the highest consumers of chocolate, consuming almost 5kgs of per person while the Asia-Pacific region consumed only 200g per person. The smaller portion sizes have made the multipack individually wrapped chocolate bars popular in the market.
Having recognised the growing importance of connecting with Chinese consumers through e-commerce, in December Whittaker’s launched its flagship store on Alibaba’s direct-to-Chinese-consumers e-commerce platform T-Mall. The brand is also being sold across all 400 Chinese Walmart stores as well as their online platform.
Whittaker advises other smaller companies looking to break into Asia’s diverse market to work with New Zealand Trade and Enterprise to thoroughly research and understand the chosen market to find the right partner.
“Costs in entering markets vary, so it’s critical to look at what the future potential might be for your investment so you can get as much for your money as possible.”
He said the Free Trade Agreement with China has also enabled the business to take advantage of the stronger trading relationship between the two countries.
Also on its radar is expansion across Southeast Asia, and potentially stepping into new markets like Thailand and Myanmar due to their fast growing economies.
Although it didn’t affect the production of their chocolate, Whittaker said showcasing their halal-certification helped broaden its customer base in Malaysia and Indonesia.