Tastes Of Chocolate Around Asia

Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

Market research and insight expert Kadence Singapore muses on what consumers are looking for in selecting chocolates and their likeability factors. By Elise Huang and Xiachun Xu, insight executives, Kadence International

Chocolate is a multi-billion dollar industry—a fact that comes as no surprise. Everyone loves chocolate regardless of gender, race and age. But does everyone like the same kind of chocolate? With hundreds of chocolate brands competing for market share in the world, Kadence conducted some research to understand how our taste for chocolate changes around the region.

In a survey, consumers in Singapore, Thailand, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, Taiwan, China and Australia were asked what they look for when selecting which chocolate to buy. It might come as a no brainer that taste came out top, but there were some interesting country differences.

In Thailand, taste represented a whopping 78 percent of what Thais look for in chocolate. To them, really nothing else matters. So when asked which brands met those needs, it is not too surprising that the respondents in Thailand advocated the sweeter brands—M&Ms and Hershey’s came out highly in the ranking.

Grabbing The Taste Buds

Meanwhile in the overall market outside Thailand, taste represented about half of what people look for (46 percent)—so there must be something else they want from chocolate than just taste. Yet even taste is a broad idea, and what was also found was that consumers across different countries have different interpretations of what makes chocolate ‘tasty’. Singaporeans and Indonesians like their chocolates sweet, much higher than the Taiwanese; the Taiwanese look more for a chocolate aroma when judging its tastiness.

Moving beyond taste, this is when consumer preferences start to really differ between countries. Chocolate texture clinches the second place in several markets—Singapore (27 percent), Australia (24 percent), India (26 percent), and Malaysia (25 percent). But here again, contrasting views were observed as to what constitutes good texture. Australians value a silkiness; a smooth and creamy chocolate defining good texture. This fact clearly evidenced the brands mentioned: Cadburys and Lindt, two smooth and creamy chocolate brands.

The same cannot be said for Malaysians or Singaporeans, who like their chocolates to have a bit of crunch in them. Chocolates with nuts or cookie fillings are well received in these countries, which helps explain why Ferrero Rocher is so welcomed by their consumers.

Consumers Seeking Comfort

For the other countries, the second most important attribute has little to do with texture, or indeed the external properties of chocolate at all. It was about the benefit it gives them. In China, consumers care more about meeting their rational needs—having the energy boost from chocolates came in second (16 percent versus the average of five percent). Snickers’ energy-focused global campaign paying off here, as they were perceived as the brand most linked to delivering energy.

Interestingly, this rational need is not seen in neighbouring Taiwan, where the focus is much more emotional; they are after the feel-good factor they get from a chocolate bar. It therefore makes sense that a firm family favourite, Glico, comes to mind the most when thinking of more emotional needs from chocolate.

Just a stone’s throw away, Japanese consumers instead enjoy chocolates while paying close attention to their diet— calorie content comes in second for the Japanese after taste. They are the only nation in the study to be deeply concerned with health when it comes to chocolate.

Not to mention, a wide variety of chocolate flavours are also only observed in the Japanese market. With their love for different kinds of tea and fruits, it is easy to spot chocolate products with these flavours instead of sole taste of chocolate itself. Perhaps, culture can be brought into the equation here. Ask anyone who has been to Japan and they would know that the Japanese are diligent and almost ritualistic in keeping up their appearance and being health-conscious.

Premium Versus Value For Money

Price consideration came in as third across several countries as well. Of these price-conscious consumers, the Japanese (75 percent), Taiwanese (68 percent), and Indonesians (62 percent) want their chocolates to be wallet-friendly while those in China and India are more concerned about the quality and experience they get from their chocolate.

This may be good news to Lindt and Ferrero Rocher, where ‘luxury’ has always been present or closely associated in their advertising efforts. Research has shown that they have been highly successful in positioning themselves as superior-quality chocolate brands, when consumers were asked to rate chocolate brands on their perceived quality.

It seems that for now, few household chocolate brands are able to compete in the ‘luxury’ sphere, with the two big players dominating this particular market segment.

These two brands are not for everyone however. As previously mentioned, the Japanese, Taiwanese and Indonesians seek out value for money brands. For these consumers, there looks to be a greater emphasis on being able to treat themselves everyday as opposed to occasionally indulging in luxury. Brands such as Cadburys may not dominate the luxury space, but offer wallet-friendly chocolate in a variety of flavours and formats—meaning there is usually something for everyone.

Touching On Local Sweethearts

As might be expected, taste is the core factor of chocolate, and it is the main reason a consumer would make the purchase. But what is fascinating from this research is how different the demands for chocolate are across the region, from the specific texture consumers are looking for to the way it makes them feel about themselves. So whilst chocolate is universally loved, every market has their own unique reasons for loving it and their own preferred value.

This is clearly brought to life by the lack of a universal winning brand across the markets. Whilst Cadburys was generally the most mentioned brand, there were pockets of clear love in countries such as India, while pockets of lacklustre appeal in others like China where the brand did not even make the top 5 brands. This shows that even one of the world’s chocolate heavyweights has not cracked the Asia Pacific market just yet.

In contrast, in a number of markets, it is often the more local brands and players who dominate—Glico in Taiwan; Dove in China; Meiji in Japan—this suggests that local brands are currently doing a better job of understand their consumers’ particular palate better.

When considering the emotional aspect of chocolates and sweets as one desires and indulges these items since he or she is a child, the reason for local brands striking higher points from consumers is even clearer.

The feeling of nostalgia, familiarity is something that cannot be filled only with the taste or texture; and this could be one aspect that a lot of global brands and confectionary giants are neglecting in their market entry.

With this in mind, companies venturing into the Asian markets should keep a close watch on how they position themselves and how their marketing message gets through to their consumers.

Whether they want to be known for an energy boost that parallels Red Bull, or the brand that offers a silky smooth finish or a crunchy texture, or perhaps one that just dials up its health credentials, it is imperative to tailor communications to meet the desires of each country.

In other words, the Asia Pacific region should not be treated as a single idea or a universal market to target; a good starting point would be to grow market presence and earn the consumers’ heart.