China is one tough cookie to crack when it comes to the biscuits business, pun intended. Kraft learnt it the hard way in a well-documented case study with Oreo which was too sweet for the Chinese taste buds before the company launched the LightSweet version and the Oreo wafer sticks to the market.
Fast forward to more than a decade later, the food giant now known as Kraft Heinz has split with its snacks and confectionary business Mondelez. It recently raised a few eyebrows when it launched Jif Jaf, a chocolate sandwich biscuit with cheese, matcha tea and chilli fillings that are quite reminiscent of Oreo, sold exclusively in China, with both the biscuit and wafer offerings. What’s different though is that the new biscuits are launched exclusively on Tmall and not sold in physical stores, a path that has been taken earlier by Mars with the chilli pepper flavoured Snickers.
“That’s a very interesting experience in building the brand entirely through ecommerce, social platform, and digital engagement without the media of in-store environment to bring it to life,” Katie Ewer, strategy director of Jones Knowles Ritchie Singapore told Campaign Asia-Pacific. "It's becoming such a norm in China, not new for many Chinese brands, but certainly new to the rest of the world." The Singapore-based innovation team from Kraft Heinz worked with the creative agency in developing the brand and engagement plan for the launch in China.
Ewer acknowledged that selling a brand new biscuit flavour online means doing without the usual taste-testing type promotions and communications, something the team tried to achieve virtually through ingredient imagery, making the biscuits come alive with personalities. Jif Jaf is known as Quzu, literally translated as 'interesting clan' in Chinese, with three main characters representing its flavours—Big Cheese the charmer, Chilly Billy the adrenaline junkie and Mat Chakra the Zen master.
“It’s a risk, you can’t try before you buy,” said Ewer. “(But) I think for Chinese consumers it’s not so much rebellious as it might be for the rest of the world,” said Ewer. The characterisation, she added, was part of the strategy to differentiate Jif Jaf from Oreo. “The sandwich cookie category is dominated by Oreo, but by no means does it own the category. In creating a new brand for the category, we really want to do something different, which is why we came up with the idea of creating a set of characters,” said Ewer. The unique flavours, she added, was due to Chinese consumers' appetite for experimentation with food while the brand is targeted at young Chinese adults imbued with such attitude.
Introducing a delicious new biscuit brand in China, KRAFT JIF JAF! Flavors include seductive cheese & chocolate, wonderful matcha & chocolate, spicy chilli & chocolate and enticing double chocolate. The range is available in sandwich biscuits, wafer packs & butter cookies. Enjoy! pic.twitter.com/ULEjWImTXS— Kraft Heinz Company (@KraftHeinzCo) April 25, 2018
She was unable to comment on the merchandising strategy for selling Jif Jaf on Tmall but said online purchasing behaviour does not fall too far from offline purchase as consumers are still prone to “product browsing on autopilot” mode and impulse buying. “What makes Tmall unique is it’s where social media meets shopping. It’s a bit of a crossover between shopping and entertainment versus shopping as a retail activity,” said Ewer.
Jif Jaf will be launched later in other regional markets on different channels depending on the market structure. Ewer however confirmed that there are no immediate plans to sell Jif Jaf at offline stores in China.