If the green light is given to foreign ordinary beauty brands to enter China without mandatory animal testing, it could be transformational.
“It will have a huge effect. Indie brands are so much in demand in China now,” said Mette Knudsen, chief executive officer and partner at foreign investment consulting firm Knudsen & CRC, based in Shanghai.
“This will obviously make the market more diversified and probably open to more competition,” said Jason Yu, managing director of Greater China at Kantar Worldpanel.
“For the brands, this will bring some significance,” he continued, adding that for the Chinese consumers, maybe it will not be as significant, since many are already very familiar with and buying foreign beauty brands thanks to social media and travel.
Especially during the coronavirus pandemic, when travel was limited or stopped, e-commerce — including cross-boarder commerce — has been booming in China. Online sales today generate more than 40 percent of overall beauty revenues in the country.
And when there are no travel restrictions, the daigou cross-border channel and travel retail are other popular ways for the Chinese to purchase foreign beauty brands.
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Knudsen noted a recent shift in China already: that during the last six months numerous beauty brands have been moving part of their production to the country in order to launch there without animal tests.
Another possible reason for the shift is that during the COVID-19 crisis, sustainability has become more important to Chinese beauty consumers, especially young ones, who might be critical of brands shipping products from far away.
“There is a good opportunity for Western brands with a sustainability concept, to be able to educate consumers in China,” said Yu. “More and more middle-class consumers will become [increasingly] conscious about the environment and their social responsibilities.”
However, for the time being, awareness surrounding animal testing and cruelty free is still low.
“Frankly speaking, Chinese consumers are not so aware of non-animal testing in cosmetics — perhaps just a small number of people,” said Angelita Hu, managing editor and regulatory analyst at ChemLinked, a compliance consultancy. “But in recent years, consumers have increasingly favored clean beauty, which also includes cruelty-free cosmetics.”
Cruelty-free and vegan brands should strike a chord, particularly as the craze for pets rises in China.
“The Chinese consumer — specifically the young generation — is totally addicted to pets,” said Florence Bernardin, owner of Asia Cosme Lab, a trends and consulting agency.
In China, the pet industry is expected to reach $66.8 billion 2023, up tenfold from 2013, according to market research firm Frost & Sullivan. Chinese Millennials are the driving force behind this booming market, with people under 30 accounting for 45.2 percent of total pet ownership in the country in 2019.
“I think it’s still premature to assume that the concern around cruelty-free can naturally and consciously drive mass shopper behaviors in a short time,” said Amie Wang, a director at the consultancy WE Red Bridge. “But [as] we saw the pet ownership rising with the youth, I think consumers will change their perspective, which will help the cruelty-free brands’ boom.”
“Zero tolerance to animal cruelty is going to be more on people’s agendas. They will start supporting brands that have a similar ideology,” agreed Yu. “That is probably going to be a very interesting, longer-term growth opportunity for some brands.”
Jean-Philippe Benoist, founder of China-based distribution company GED, believes that clean U.S. beauty brands that have successfully entered the Chinese market are “supported by their success in the U.S., not because they are clean per se. The Chinese, above all, they want results,” he said. “They don’t care about bling-bling. They don’t care about noise. They want quality and results. If they don’t get it, [the brand] will disappear. It will vanish.”
GED works with cruelty-free U.S. brands RéVive Skincare and, more recently, Clark’s Botanicals — which is currently sold on TaoBao and will be launching on Tmall on Feb. 1. What sets these U.S. brands apart is the quality of their products, which have been tested by GED, said Benoist, adding both RéVive and Clark’s Botanicals focus on clinically proven, result-driven formulas.
“The way that we’ve been approaching the Chinese market is from the very core, basic intent of: ‘How do we make your skin look better tomorrow than today?’” said Clark’s Botanicals founder Francesco Clark. “‘Let’s look at the clinical data of human skin, and how we boost your radiance from the inside out.’ When you start to look at it that way, from a scientific point of view, then you start to have more quantifiable data as to why your product works and that’s exactly what the Chinese market likes.”
Clark’s Botanicals’ projection of growth this year is “10-times more than last year because of our international distribution now,” added Clark. “[The new regulation] is an opportunity for independent, quality brands to really grow and scale in a sustainable way.”
“The Chinese consumer does not just buy on impulse — most of them research about the brand’s values and ingredients, what’s good for them and harmful,” said Knudsen. “The brands that understand this type of consumer will definitely be successful in China.”
Yu noted the top and bottom tier of the Chinese beauty market are booming.
“Our recommendation is that brands start to prepare [to enter the market],” said Knudsen, ticking off elements such as documents for product ingredients and raw materials.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks for a Western brand entering China is if they do not protect their intellectual property rights.
“My best advice is to treat [China] as their second home market, in regard to resources,” she continued.
“It’s very important to research the market and really understand who they are targeting and what they stand for,” added Yu. “They must have a hero product or a hero sku that can be a blockbuster — very easily communicated on the internet, on social media, which is very important.”
“China is the only country where if you have one successful product, you can really create big business,” added Bernardin.
Filorga, for instance, made its name in China with one mask.
“A brand has to be careful to eventually be ready to prepare big quantities of a product,” continued Bernardin, who explained that might be a product an influencer touts that’s not within the core business of the brand.
“You have to be sure about your brand equity,” she said.
Another complication for foreign beauty brands entering China is figuring out how they should be distributed through brick-and-mortar in a market that’s largely online.
Still, such hurdles are not likely going to be dissuasive.
“All the brands will come [to China],” said Benoist. “I see this coming already.”
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