I’ve been looking closely at baby diapers lately in the name of research. It’s not been as unpleasant as you might imagine – in fact it’s been a rather fragrant experience. Chinese middle-class parents are a bit worried about locally made diapers (too much starch and other chemicals can make their Little Emperor’s skin itch) and are looking for alternatives. So, for a client, we’ve been road-testing non-Chinese diapers. The clear winners were Japanese – overdesigned, super absorbent, organic and pleasantly fragrant (cherry blossom, no less!). There’s nothing finer, softer or more expensive. But Chinese parents don’t appear to care about the cost in quite the same way as parents in other emerging markets. Three Chinese diapers per day at low cost becomes one Japanese über-diaper per day at high cost, and the total bill evens out until the potty training’s taken care of.
Product safety is high among coddling parents’ list of concerns. We also road-tested a range of Japanese baby beakers and plates. A simple product – nothing more than a basic plastic mold – but it seems middle-class parents really do fret: Since introducing Japanese plastic beakers and plates into a baby store, at triple the price of Chinese-made alternatives, sales have been high. When questioned, consumers say the same thing: safety, safety, safety. There are good solid margins to be had in those Little Emperors, even before they get onto solids themselves!
Running the numbers, it’s now confirmed: Moving to the city in China and the process of urbanization makes you fat. Don’t fight it; the numbers don’t lie! The latest surveys indicate that approximately 10 million city-dwelling Chinese a year are becoming obese. This makes the country’s cities officially "obesogenic" locations – places that encourage obesity through the promotion of sedentary lifestyles and bad diets. China’s fattest city? Beijing. A survey by the local health bureau found that approximately 60% of adults in the capital are now overweight and that obesity is becoming increasingly common among children.
Everybody wants in on what is widely seen as the success of department stores in the last couple of years in China. True, department stores have been doing well, and true, there are more of them than before, and true, plenty of existing ones have been refurbished and re-launched. But is there anything specific about the department store concept that attracts shoppers, or are they just in the right places at the right time? America’s Saks (SKS.NYSE), France’s Galaries Lafayette and even the UK’s Debenhams (DEB.LSE) are reportedly investigating sites in China. What has long amazed me is that Harrods hasn’t nipped in to appeal to consumers’ love of luxury, bling and high-visibility brand names. What on earth is the strategy team in Knightsbridge waiting for?
And so the long awaited rebranding of sportswear chain Li Ning (2331.HK) finally occurred – "committed to reconfiguring the Li Ning brand DNA," screamed the hyperbolic PR shot. The new slogan is "Make The Change," though from what and to what remains unclear – from Nike (NKE.NYSE) or Adidas (ADS.FWB) to Li Ning, we can only assume. Meanwhile, the logo, long criticized for being too like the Nike swoosh, has to be studied quite closely to see any difference. The PR people call it a "brand revitalization." Those I speak to in the sportswear business call it just enough of a design change to avoid an intellectual property lawsuit if Li Ning starts expanding overseas.