Minnie Wang
Jul 3, 2024

Kraft Heinz's CMO on marketing Western sauces to a Chinese audience

China CMO Allen Cai expands on the importance of targeting younger consumers, innovating a global product in a local market, and the tricky balance between flavour and health.

Heinz's ‘eye-catching tote bag’ UGC sharing on Red (L) and a CNY special gift edition (R)
Heinz's ‘eye-catching tote bag’ UGC sharing on Red (L) and a CNY special gift edition (R)

Kraft Heinz debuted in China 40 years ago to promote the use of the brand’s Western sauces among Chinese consumers. Present day, Allen Cai, CMO of Kraft Heinz China, said that the brand recently invested nearly 100 million RMB (US$13.8 million) in the R&D process last year for the production of its ‘no-sugar-added’ tomato ketchup in China which utilises high-temperature technology to preserve the taste of the tomato. The product is designed with the Chinese consumer in mind.

Last summer, Cai and his team created Heinz's ‘eye-catching tote bag’ which gained immense popularity on Chinese social media platform Red (Xiaohongshu). It has not just become social currency but has also been monetised on second-hand product trading applications. The tote bag was not the only peripheral product from Heinz. The brand continued to launch a special edition for Chinese New Year and created a new marketplace in Shanghai with more totes to come this year. 

Allen Cai at FBIF

Cai said at the Food & Beverage Innovation Forum (FBIF) 2024: “Our guiding principle is that our most innovative ideas are directed towards our key group of individuals. We focus on creating lasting impacts rather than a flash in the pan.”

Heinz and Kate Spade collaboration

Recently, Cai’s marketing efforts have stretched beyond China. Heinz expanded its tote bag collection and roped in Kate Spade to debut their joint efforts across other APAC markets including Japan and Southeast Asia.

Campaign sits down for an exclusive interview with Cai.

Campaign: How does a brand like Heinz introduce Western products to a Chinese audience?

Cai: For Western sauces, our primary focus is on enhancing communication with the younger generation of consumers. This encourages a broader audience to experiment with Western sauces and incorporate them into various culinary scenarios.

In many things we do for that, the product remains our primary focus. Regardless of the extent of consumer education, it’s crucial to have the right product to present to them. Great products form the foundation of satisfying consumer needs. Furthermore, we are venturing into new product innovation. Most of our audience who use Western-style sauces highly emphasise diet and health. In response to the younger generation’s health-conscious preferences, we introduced a range of products, such as zero-sugar ketchup with 60% reduced salt and salad dressing, as well as zero-fat vinaigrette.

The second aspect is that it has not been convenient for people to go out in the past few years.  The younger generation of consumers are more willing to choose air fryers and other small appliances for cooking. When they use the fryer at home, they seek healthier, oil-free options for food. As a result of this insight into young consumers' dual pursuit of flavour and health, we introduced Heinz’s compound seasoning called ‘Global Flavours, One to Taste’, which allows consumers to taste authentic global flavours without stepping out of their homes.

The third aspect to note is that today’s young consumers prefer smaller packaging. This preference is not only due to its convenience but also because it’s less overwhelming to use. As a result, we continue to produce smaller packages of salad dressings and ketchups. This not only satisfies the pursuit of convenience but also enables more consumers to taste the products, thereby reducing the entry barrier. When it comes to promoting our Western-style sauces, Heinz is very focused on young consumers.

This year, we introduced a brand slogan: ‘It has to be Heinz: I dip Heinz (我就蘸亨氏)”. The term ‘dip’ here, apart from its literal interpretation related to the use of Western-style sauces, also uses a pun (in Chinese), that is, the meaning of ‘like’, to express that I support Heinz and I want Heinz. This pun fully represents our brand's attitude and confidence.

Plus, a crucial part of consumer communication is reaching out to them. Currently, young people are gathering more on Bilibili, Red (Xiaohongshu), and Douyin. So, brands must make their presence on these platforms to connect with consumers. Therefore, we’ve engaged in various collaborations and offline events with numerous brands. These initiatives are all about interacting with consumers in their preferred ways and through their frequently used channels.

Other than Western sauces, Kraft Heinz in China also acquired traditional Chinese sauce brands, including those from GuangHe Preserved Red Bean Curd. How effective were these collaborations?

Guanghe Preserved Red Bean Curd has a history of about 130 years and is one of the oldest condiment brands in China. In 2010, Guanghe became a part of the Kraft Heinz family. As a brand that has stood the test for over a century, we aim to rejuvenate its image, infuse it with a youthful spirit, and foster collaborations with more local brands.

Therefore, we launched Guanghe collaborations with many young brands to explore new ways of eating. In August last year, we collaborated with several trendy online brands in Dongshankou to craft a range of collaborative and innovative preserved red bean curd dishes. This initiative drew the attention of over 3,000 consumers, creating a buzz both online and offline. We also innovated with preserved red bean curd chicken meal packs, preserved red bean curd ice cream, and matcha preserved red bean curd jelly soup (a cocktail). This year, we took advantage of the Dragon Boat Festival to roll out a series of collaboration dumplings with Wufangzhai so that the new and old brands have a great fusion and let more young people enjoy Guanghe Preserved Red Bean Curd.

What are the some significant marketing challenges and opportunities for Kraft Heinz brands right now in China?

In recent years, the Chinese local condiment market has witnessed intense competition, and we have been seeking opportunities to offer consumers superior and more diverse products. When it comes to food consumption patterns, fundamental consumer needs remain unchanged, and there is still a strong demand for food that is both healthy and tasty. However, specific nuances, such as an increased focus on health and rationality, have changed.

As health consciousness has surged among the population, a large number of zero-additive products have emerged in the market, capturing a substantial market share. In response to this trend, we’ve introduced several series of zero-additive products across various seasoning categories. Meanwhile, consumers have become more cost-conscious, often conducting thorough research and budgeting before purchasing. They also pay attention to whether the ingredients meet the required standards and are more interested in certain nutrients' values.

Finally, it is still vital to match the consumer's taste. The taste of a product is one of the most essential elements in seasoning. Consumers' demand for freshness and flavour has never changed but is only increasing. It’s crucial to uphold this freshness and flavour while also prioritising health. Overall, the fundamental logic of the food market has not changed, but consumers are becoming more demanding.

Campaign Asia

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