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Could Weetabix Succeed with Western Breakfast in China?

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Pınar Hoşafçı Bio

In September 2013, one year on from its acquisition by China’s Bright Food, UK cereal major Weetabix put its Weetabix and Alpen brands on sale in stores in Shanghai. Earlier this month, the company announced plans to open a production facility in China. This appears to be quite a brave move given that cereal with milk is not the way Chinese consumers like to “fuel their day”. According to Euromonitor International, Chinese per capita consumption of RTE cereals is one of the lowest globally, standing at just 7g in 2013. Yoghurt is also not a product that can be considered traditionally Chinese. However, spoonable yoghurt registered 14% volume growth over the last five years, making China one of the fastest growing yoghurt markets globally. Moreover, the category is led by Bright Food’s much-loved Momchilovtsi brand, which has grown twentyfold since its launch in 2009. If Weetabix wants to gain a foothold in the Chinese breakfast cereals market, cross-branding Alpen and Momchilovtsi could be its route to success.

RTE Cereal Per Capita Consumption vs Spoonable Yoghurt Volume Growth in Selected Markets

Source: Euromonitor International

Note:  RTE - Ready to eat. Selected markets refer to the markets where Weetabix is present.

The Chinese like it Savoury

Although RTE cereals are growing in China, per capita consumption remains very low. A traditional Chinese breakfast is mostly hot and almost always savoury. This is exactly where yoghurt fits in. As a salty product, yoghurt blends in well with many savoury ingredients, including oats, green tea and sesame seeds. In addition, yoghurt can claim a number of health and wellness positionings, such as aiding digestive health and more recently bone health as an excellent source of protein. The latter can be complemented by the high fibre positioning of cereals, which can be easily fortified with numerous vitamins and supplements like zinc and iron, thus appealing to young and older people alike who are looking for healthier options in their everyday lives. Mixing yoghurt and cereals would also make yoghurt a more exciting product, ready to be consumed as a mid-morning snack or an afternoon dessert.

Co-Branding is the New Craze

In recent years, the packaged food industry has seen a number of key branding partnerships, including the co-branding between General Mills’ Betty Crocker and Hershey in the US and Mondelez’s cross-branding of its Dairy Milk with Ritz and LU biscuits in the UK. These ventures have helped their respective companies boost slowing sales in developed markets and may eventually improve brand recognition in emerging countries. Weetabix can replicate this trend by teaming up with Bright Food and capitalising on the strength of the Momchilovtsi brand, which managed to increase its share from zero in 2008 to 18% in 2013. Co-branding with Bright Food could also give Weetabix easy access to major retail channels, thus leapfrogging additional marketing challenges in China. In particular, the shelf stable packaging of Momchilovtsi may serve Weetabix well considering the low penetration of fridges in west and mid-China. The foreign nature of Weetabix could also attract a growing number of Chinese consumers who are drawn to Western food brands, mainly because of the importance of food safety.

Serving a Time-Poor Generation

One of the key things to consider when launching a non-traditional product in China is packaging. The consumers of both yoghurt and cereals are mainly middle-class households who are lured by foreign brands, are time-poor and seek convenience. Small pots can cater for all of these demands. Weetabix may also draw from Danone’s success in Turkey through its Activia Breakfast Pots, which have a separate muesli/cereal topper, enabling consumers to decide on the amount to mix. Such a packaging strategy could increase Weetabix’s consumer base, fulfilling the needs of both cereal and yoghurt consumers. If Weetabix wants the Chinese to “fuel their day” with cereals, it should look no further than its recent owner which not only knows all about Chinese breakfast habits but also has the right products and image to gradually change them.

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