Annie Yao
Annie is Mintel's Associate Director - Client Service, based in the Singapore office. She leads the South APAC team of Insight Analysts, as well as works closely with clients across Southeast Asia in the delivery of insight presentations, regional reports and custom work.

The skyrocketing number of social media users in China, combined with the integration of mobile payment within these platforms are increasingly offering opportunities to China’s major food companies to seize what social network retailing has to offer. Social network retailing is a way of e-commerce where users’ friends become involved in the shopping experience.

With social media platforms, such as WeChat, being used by almost a billion active users each month, the question for brands here is no longer whether they should tap into such platforms for retail, but rather what and how they can use it to their advantage.

Mengniu, a Chinese dairy giant, began social network retailing at the start of 2018 with the launch of Burnlooking, its first social-network exclusive product that’s a high-fibre ready-to-drink (RTD) milkshake containing fat-burning functionality. Mintel has identified that social media retailing is a more cost-effective way to acquire new business, compared to offline channels or major e-commerce platforms, and Mengniu is experimenting further with it.


Mengniu social network-exclusive high-fibre milkshake (Source: JD.com)

Niche, functional products are a natural fit on social media platforms

Functional products are a natural fit with micro-communities that social media networks can reach—a strategy that is vital as it helps brands better understand and interact with consumers. Chinese dairy giant Yili launched a social network-exclusive product Foodcode in 2018, which was positioned as a dietary supplement.

Such functional products not only sell well due to greater demand from increasingly health-conscious consumers, but also generate publicity through the conversations that they create on social media. This has made social media retailing a vital component of many food companies’ businesses in recent years.


Yili social network-exclusive product Foodcode (Source: JD.com)

What we think

As digitisation ushers in an era of more targeted marketing, direct selling as a channel is undergoing a renaissance. In China, the unique WeChat platform, complete with its integrated payment systems, has allowed it to flourish. Social media retailing is now attracting major food players who are tapping into the various micro-communities that have proliferated on social media to market exclusive, niche functional food and drink products. This channel is ideal for engaging with specific consumer groups, and would be well-suited to other categories that have a highly involved consumer base, such as wine.