HOW TO MEASURE THE PACE OF CHANGE IN CHINA? ASK A TODDLER.
There is one certain, consistent thing about China. It changes almost everyday. Take for instance, the adoption of the humble nappy.
There continues to be a feverish intensity among mainland Chinese to leap onto the latest offerings from the West. New brands, new trends, new ways of living better; the buzz is omnipresent.
But be warned; don’t mistake rapid change for an immediate devaluing of centuries of Chinese customs, rituals and traditions.
In the past five years alone, the “mother and baby” category of sales in China has boomed by 250%, to more than $75 billion per year.
Paul Davie, my business partner in Aodaliya Exports, points to one recent example that he observed in his local community in Anting, on the outskirts of Shanghai, where age-old tradition is only just now making way for modern convenience.
“Less than a year ago it would be almost unheard of for a Chinese infant to be seen wearing a nappy, the custom being that the baby or toddler wears split pants for quick access to toileting, and a fast track to toilet training,” Paul explains.
“Whether it be on a railway platform, or in a public park, the child would be carried to the nearest square of grass or rubbish bin to relieve themselves - because when nature calls there’s not much else you can do in that situation.”
“You definitely have to be on your toes, especially in crowded situations, although the Chinese are so accustomed to avoiding the toilet dash that they part like the Red Sea!”
“But now, only 12 months later, for every 10 infants I see in my local area, at least 6 or 7 of them are wearing a disposable nappy, although mostly underneath the split pants…so I guess some traditions never die.”
While the lure of the disposable nappy is starting to take hold, figures show more than 40% of parents and grandparents (often the primary carers) still prefer the traditional split pants method, way above most other developed nations.
And to add further insight to the ebbs and flows of the Chinese market, the latest Bain and Company “China Shopper Report” shows that foreign branded nappies were one of the hardest hit products in 2016-2017 by new Chinese domestic competitors, suffering a more than 6% drop in market share.
It’s another example of why simplistically transposing Western forecasts on Chinese market potential is fraught with danger.
“To understand the nuances of the Chinese culture and how that permeates into the business environment, you have to have spent a lot of time here,” Paul Davie says.
“I’ve been doing business in China for 10 years, and moved here in 2014, but I still find that I’m learning new things almost everyday.”
“And despite the increasing Western influence here, there are so many subtle differences in Chinese behaviours, buying habits and everyday customs and rituals that you can’t know exist, without spending time on the ground in the real China, mixing with local people.”
Aodaliya Exports helps businesses access the China market by being on the ground with our team in Shanghai. Find out your market potential in China for as little as $600 AUD by clicking here.