China Focus: Chinese market breeding new fashion for African product consumption

CHANGSHA, Sept. 29 (Xinhua/GNA) - As China's imports from Africa increase rapidly, entrepreneurs are fostering new fashions of consumption in the country by matching African products of high-quality and added value with diversified demand of consumers.

Wu Kunyang, a woman in her 30s and mother of two children, laid out cosmetic products containing natural ingredients from African plants at the exhibition centre for African cocoa. It is one of the main exhibition centres for African products at the Gaoqiao Grand Market, a sub-venue of the second China-Africa Economic and Trade Expo, which runs from Sunday to Wednesday in Changsha, capital of central China's Hunan Province.

Five years ago, her skin was sensitive and flaking. At that time, although her salary was lower than the average level, she would spend one-third of her income on big-brand skincare products.

"Spending a lot of money on popular brands did not solve my problem," she said, "I came across the cure when my husband's African schoolmate sent us his mom's hand-made shea oil."

Fascinated by the effect of the unique African plant, Wu was determined to introduce cosmetic products with natural African ingredients to Chinese consumers. In 2016, she co-founded the brand named "Shea and Cocoa" with her husband and built a supply chain of high-quality natural ingredients from Africa with the support of partners.

Targeting Chinese consumers' demand for safe and natural skincare products, the company spent around 70 percent of its revenue on research and development, cooperating with multiple universities.

The products sold online via social media garnered many "likes" from Chinese consumers. Some of them even opened brick-and-mortar stores in the cities of Shanghai, Xiamen, and Yantai.

"Sales of our brand soared to about 10 million yuan (about 1.55 million U.S. dollars) in 2020 from 500,000 yuan in 2019, as consumption demand upgraded and Chinese consumers have strong will to replace chemical cosmetic products with natural and healthy ones after the COVID-19 outbreak," Wu said, optimistic about the market potential for Africa's natural cosmetics.

She was not alone in promoting the imports of high-quality produce from Africa. In the exhibition hall of the African cocoa marketing centre where her booth was, various cocoa products ranging from chocolate gift sets to cocoa ice cream, from flower-shaped aerated chocolate to blind boxes, were displayed.

As the COVID-19 pandemic blocked traditional cocoa export channels, China's massive consumer market provides new opportunities for African producers, said Zhong Linbo, manager of the African Cocoa Marketing Centre in China.

The centre aims to set up a whole industrial chain covering production, processing, design, research and development, and branding while encouraging innovations to satisfy consumers' diverse tastes, he said.

To better engage with consumers, entrepreneurs also attached greater significance to customers' experience and added value of culture when promoting their products in China.

A coffee store named "Own Master" opened at the market during the expo. Positioning itself as a coffee culture museum, the store pilots promoting African coffee and African culture in the Chinese market.

"Thanks to the development of China-Africa trade cooperation, we can directly purchase high-quality coffee from African plantations and have obtained the license for roasting coffee on the spot," said Jing Jianhua, founder of the store.

"African coffee is of very high quality," said Jing, who plans to constantly improve customers' experience by satisfying their demand with tailored products and open up to 500 coffee shops in three to five years.

To promote African commodities in China, a livestreaming e-commerce festival took place at the China-Africa E-commerce Livestreaming Incubator of the Gaoqiao market during the expo, with 62 special sales events organized in 10 livestreaming rooms. It sold a variety of products, including coffee, sesame, pepper, wine, handicrafts, and home supplies.

Kilimall, one of the major Chinese e-commerce platforms operating in East Africa, also created sales channels on WeChat and organized group purchase activities to boost the consumption of African products in China.

Currently, coffee, dried mango, and wine are more popular among Chinese consumers, said Qin Wen, co-founder of the company. "In the future, we will strive to introduce more high-quality African products to Chinese consumers."