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Finnish food and beverage brands have much to offer China

The trend of looking for Nordic food offerings has already started among Chinese importers.

Visit Finland/Soili Jussila/Vastavalo

The time is ripe for Finnish food and beverage brands to make an impact in China, writes Cuilu Fan.

At the beginning of 2019, China became the world’s biggest consumer market. China’s diversity of population and subcultures offer a huge opportunity for business. It is also a country rich in food culture. Not only is food a daily essential; more importantly, it is a lifestyle.

The increase in food exports to China was first triggered by a food scandal in China many years ago. Food safety has since remained a priority among Chinese consumers making food purchasing decisions. However, an increasing number of middle- and higher-income consumers have become more experienced in purchasing imported foodstuffs through multiple channels. They demand not only safety, but also quality and diversity of choices. These consumers are conscious of country of origin, taste, branding and nutritional benefits. They are also curious to try new food from grocery shops online and offline.

Finland, as well as other Nordic countries, has a good reputation among Chinese consumers. It gives an image of clean, pure and magic nature, with an element of cool especially when it comes to design and lifestyle. However, when talking about food, it has yet to become associated with anything particular among Chinese consumers. Nonetheless, the trend of looking for Nordic food offerings has already started among Chinese importers. When participating in consumer events, one can hear people mentioning wild berries and foods they happen to have tried through friends or at other events.

“Now is a very good timing for Finland to do more in the market.”

I am often asked by importers, “What does Finland offer to Chinese?” and “Can I name one product that makes consumers associate it with Finland?” Is it berries, wild foods, water, healthy foods, interesting chocolates, candies, alcohol, beverages or seafood? I would say it is the combination of them all, but with more innovation and consideration for a healthy diet, and stricter quality control on all levels. It is food for a lifestyle.

We in Finland already know these facts by heart, but how do we communicate this to Chinese consumers? Marketing and branding has been challenging for all foreign brands with limited budget and experience in China. More collective thinking is needed. Finland has dozens of brands that could contribute and build a unique Finnish brand together. Finland is gradually building its country image through innovation, tourism, education and, this year, the winter sports theme. More and more topics on Finland can be found in Chinese social media.

The time is ripe.

Originally published in April 2019

Cuilu Fan
Senior advisor for China and e-commerce at Business Finland's Food from Finland programme