By Andrea Lillo
While stand mixers may be a standard appliance in many American kitchens, households in mainland China wouldn’t even be able to identify this product, let alone use it in their kitchens, said Elaine Ann, president and chief executive officer of Kaizor Innovation.
Understanding how people in mainland China live and what types of home products they crave is crucial for companies looking to expand into this lucrative market, and was the subject of Ann’s seminar during last month’s Hong Kong Houseware Fair.
So what is essential in Chinese kitchens? Hot water boilers, for one. It’s their habit “to drink hot/warm beverages, which has to do with concept of health in traditional Chinese medicine,” Ann said.
With Americans’ larger homes and kitchens, “the U.S. has a product for every single cooking action, but do Chinese people think this way?” asked Ann, whose firm works with both Western and Asian companies to research and define new product innovations for the Chinese market. Another typical American product—the salad spinner—would also not get much use in China, as the Chinese cook all of their vegetables, said Ann, who was born and raised in Hong Kong and spent 12 years in the U.S.
The appliances that are found in Chinese kitchens, she added, include soybean milk makers, Chinese medicine makers and disinfecting cabinets, where the Chinese place their dishes after hand-washing them. (A dishwasher is not designed for the needs of the Chinese, she added later, as they wash woks and bowls instead of plates. There is also a “perception in China is that it’s not enough to just wash the dishes with water; there’s a need to disinfect them as well,” among other reasons.)
And because most families include only one child, parents are willing to drop a lot of money on their offspring—maybe 10 times as much as they earn to renovate the kid’s room, Ann found while working with a furniture company in mainland China. Children’s furniture was typically miniatures of adult furniture, they found. Inspired by these insights, the company developed 30 new products, including a reading nook that allowed the sibling-less child to bond with the parents. “The furniture allows the parents to read books to them, and the parents are willing to spend money on that.”
While Westerners may have misconceptions of the Chinese market, it can go the other way as well. One image Ann showed was of a lace telephone cover, which she came across in a lot of Chinese households. “I saw many laces in China—it’s their concept of the Western lifestyle, for some reason.”