Exclusive: New trends and opportunities in marketing seafood in China

Published on
May 11, 2017

Robin Wang is CEO of SMH International, a seafood-focused marketing agency with offices in Shanghai and Hong Kong with clients including the Alaskan Seafood Marketing Institute. SMH organizes marketing campaigns on various Chinese e-commerce websites for its seafood clients. SMH also targets its campaigns at offline consumers in restaurants and supermarkets. He spoke to SeafoodSource about the rise of social media shopping on microblogging platform Weixin (Wechat) and how supermarkets are adapting. He also spoke about increased Chinese outbound tourism as an influence on seafood fads and trends. 

SeafoodSource: Has ‘social media shopping’ (via Wechat etc) become a good alternative to stores like Tmall.com?

Wang: Not exactly. Let me use an analogy. We can consider Tmall like a large department store with a large variety of products that targets the general public. However, shopping channels via social media such as Wechat is a lot more niche, and thus aims to provide a very different shopping experience for consumers. It's almost like being invited to a Tupperware party, as a Wechat shop's purpose is usually not just for shopping. Followers of specific Wechat stores are usually also looking for more information and education. A Wechat shop as social media shopping, provides a more personal touch and sustainable education that's beyond the mandate of e-commerce sites like Tmall. Although social media shopping is not as large as sites like Tmall, we cannot dismiss social media shopping altogether, as some Wechat accounts may have many followers and very influential. So rather than saying that they are alternatives to e-commerce sites like Tmall.com, it's best to say that they are a good compliment. 

SeafoodSource: Can seafood companies now focus completely on online and forget about supermarkets?

Wang: No. Definitely not. Although we can't deny the tremendous growth of e-commerce, conventional channels such as supermarket and stores are repositioning themselves and aim to provide even more convenience. Although some may find online shopping already very convenient, some customers still very enjoy the physical nature of the shopping experience: touching, seeing, smelling the actual seafood. This offline experience is so imperative that a lot of e-commerce sites now are opening "experience stores" offline where customers can go to a store, feel or smell or see the product they like [and then] buy at the store via the store's internet, and immediately have the goods shipped back home. In essence, I believe that both e-commerce and traditional offline channels will influence each other to provide an even more enriching shopping experience for our consumers.

SeafoodSource: Do you expect a big increase in demand for seafood in China in 2017?

Wang: Definitely. China's continuing growth fuels the increasing demand for seafood. First, Chinese know of the great health benefits of seafood. Many Chinese believe eating seafood is healthier than eating red meat. Second, Chinese cuisine has long used seafood in its ingredients, and as Chinese get richer with their earnings, they are demanding more variety and quality of the food that they consume. Third, China's infrastructure is continuing to develop and therefore more fresh seafood can be shipped relatively inexpensively to inland, hence also driving demand in the inland second-tier and third-tier cities.

SeafoodSource: Is the increase in China’s outbound tourism helping to increase consumption of seafood species like oysters in China?

Wang: Sure. There's definitely a correlation there, but it's not necessarily the cause. It's true that Chinese are now eating more seafood that's popular elsewhere in the world, but rather than attributing such increase to outbound tourism, it may be more appropriate to characterize this as an increase in the embrace of other cultures. Through learning about other cultures' embrace of delicacies like oysters, via social media, TV, movies, etcetera. Chinese also learn of what food is considered as trendy or classy in other cultures. Seeing a popular Hollywood movie star eat oysters in a big Hollywood blockbuster may subconsciously move Chinese to consider oysters. And that's why now in many restaurants serving European or American cuisines, oysters are now a staple on their menu – notwithstanding with high-profit margin too. A good example of how pop-culture influences Chinese behaviors may be a rise of shops that specialize in offering deep-fried chicken with beer. This food combination was made famous and trendy in China as a direct result of a very popular Korean TV drama.

SeafoodSource: Are there lots of Chinese companies getting into the seafood importing and distribution business? Or has e-commerce killed their business model?

Wang: Yes, there are lots of Chinese companies that work in seafood importing and distribution, but e-commerce is not their bane. Rather, it is a compliment. In fact, many Chinese importers and distributors use e-commerce and their online platforms to help drive up demand for their products. So e-commerce actually is a great thing for these companies.

SeafoodSource: Can you give an example of a seafood promotion this year that worked really well?

Wang: As online sales promotions have become the main channel for [targeting] first- and second-tier cities, this year, Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute in China has worked closely with multiple online platforms JD.com., Chunbo.com, and YHD.com, etcetera, for its promotions, in which diverse Alaska seafood was featured. Along with the online promotional sales events, POS [point of sale] materials such as recipe books and other small gifts complemented these sales events. We had great success with all these. Not only did the sales of Alaska seafood see a big increase, these promotions also paved the way for more seafood companies wanting to work with us to feature Alaska seafood. We are very excited to see this result and look forward to working with all our new and existing partners.

Contributing Editor reporting from Beijing, China

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