Over the past few decades, China has changed dramatically. Alongside mass urbanisation, phenomenal economic growth and radical technological advances, some of the most significant changes have happened in people’s homes.
In China, family and shared food experiences are an essential part of the culture, and higher household incomes and increased purchasing power continue to drive up demand for new kitchen and home products.
To capitalise on that opportunity, home appliance companies need to think beyond their existing product portfolios, embrace the uniqueness of China’s food culture and its distinctive national character. They need to understand the cooking habits, preference and motivations of Chinese consumers and find meaningful, relevant ways to address their needs.
Celebrating the Chinese Kitchen
When it comes to addressing consumer needs, it’s worth pointing out that many Western appliances are not suitable for the Chinese kitchen.
In China, where people traditionally cooked on open fires, the wok continues to be the preferred choice. When it comes to eating habits, dishes are usually served together, to be shared and a host will normally offer plenty of food when entertaining guests as a sign of hospitality. This cultural etiquette has important implications for how people clean and clear tables, tidy up the kitchen and deal with the storage of ingredients and leftovers.
In recent years at PDD, we have seen some home appliance brands starting to address the needs of the Chinese consumers, with induction cookers with curved surfaces that are compatible with woks and dishwashers with a wider, deeper inner space to accommodate Chinese kitchenware and utensils. But they are still the exemption rather than the norm.
New lifestyle trends in Chinese society also call for faster innovation in the home appliance industry.
In 2021, the Ministry of Civil Affairs, estimated that over 90 million people lived alone in China. Of those, nearly a quarter are between 20 and 35 years old and live in cities. This so-called “home generation” prefer to spend time alone, opting for individual leisure activities like photography or home videos, rather than collective ones.
China’s working style is also influencing how people live at home. Long working hours and high-pressure fast-paced lifestyles leave very little time for food preparation, transforming the way people cook and eat. These shifts raise new challenges and opportunities for the kitchen and home appliance market.
The relatively new phenomenon of “eating alone” has also increased demand for mini-size kitchen appliances, such as mini electric cookers, juicers, etc. Smaller families need smaller fridges, and busy schedules call for microwave ovens instead of the traditional rice cookers which, until now, was a common feature in Chinese kitchens.
As more families live in cities, Chinese consumers also have higher expectations of what a product should do for them. Form, function and convenience are a must, with a trend towards integrated appliances that fit into small kitchen spaces, offer multiple functionalities, keep the kitchen neat and are easy to clean.
The wellness opportunity
Consumers in China are increasingly aware of health and wellness, with food safety at the top of their agenda. QR codes and connected devices that trace the provenance of their cooking ingredients are increasingly popular, whilst concerns about residues of pesticides on vegetables and other farm products which cannot be removed by soaking and rinsing have also fuelled demand for new cleaning solutions and organic food.
At the same time, kitchen appliances that claim to support health and wellbeing are rapidly gaining market share. High speed blenders, new to the Chinese market, have become wildly popular, as have electric kettles for herbal tea (养生壶) and slow cookers.
In addition, new technologies like AI, Internet of Things and personalisation are also gaining ground. Haier’s smart refrigerator, with an automatic face recognition function which, connected with a personal body-fat scanning scale can retrieve a person’s health information, thus helping those looking to maintain a healthy weight with appropriate food suggestions, is an example of this.
On a broader scale, Chinese consumers have increased awareness of environmental issues, with environmental credentials and energy saving becoming important factors of purchase consideration.
Think global, and local
In China, local manufacturers are heavily investing in R&D to seize market opportunities, designing new types of products to address the cooking habits and lifestyle of Chinese consumers.
Global brands are also starting to capitalise on that potential. For example, at PDD we have designed an award-winning water purifying and heating dispenser for Philips, tailored to Chinese people’s water drinking habits. Our team in Shanghai have also collaborated with BSH, the global home appliance company, to develop Xiao Yu (小御), a Digital Assistant Device, to support customers in China for better home living.
Brands need to do more, however. Through our research, we have seen many kitchen appliances from international brands that do not satisfy the needs of Chinese consumers with products that are difficult to use, manuals that are not easy to understand and features that are not needed, nor fully appreciated.
To make the most of the immense market opportunity that China presents, companies need to work on technology innovation but also pay attention to the needs of different customer segments, upgrading the function, design and usability of their products to stand out against competitors. A true understanding of the local culture, user habits, needs and trends lie at the heart of successful market differentiation.
Our team at PDD has been working closely with home appliance companies in China, running ethnographic studies, usability tests and creative workshops to explore and unveil new business opportunities that address market needs.
As China continues to develop at fast pace, and Chinese consumers continue to demand better, more sophisticated products and experiences to support their lifestyle, home appliance brands need to get out of their comfort zone and embrace change. Only then will they be able to design products and services that are relevant, innovative and have the potential to transform the life at home, in China and around the world.