AliExpo 2019 proved New Zealand’s ‘clean, green’ image remains as strong as ever, reports Jihee Junn.
At Alibaba’s e-commerce expo on Friday, ‘brand New Zealand’ was at its sales-pitch best.
There were face masks, eye masks, hand creams and serums made from the most natural of ingredients this side of the world had to offer. There were also vitamins – so many vitamins – claiming to treat everything from zinc deficiency to irregular bowel health. There was also food: milk, muesli, and Manuka honey, all signed and sealed with silver fern approval.
Over two days, more than a hundred New Zealand brands gathered at ASB Showgrounds for AliExpo, New Zealand’s first attempt at hosting the Chinese online retail giant’s flagship event. Focused on helping local businesses tap into the e-commerce enabled Chinese market, thousands of buyers, merchandisers, and consumers flocked to the event to check out the best of Made in New Zealand, including many names already familiar to Chinese consumers, such as Blackmores, Antipodes, Comvita, Good Health and, of course, Fonterra.
By 11 am, the room was already a hive of frenzied activity. It was a mixed crowd as businessmen rubbed elbows with middle-aged women eager to try out samples, while the number of young families in attendance was also staggering. Parents scoured for goods while mascots did their best to entertain the little ones. In fact, the whole place was seemingly crawling with mascots, each one slightly more unnerving than the other: pink dinosaurs, green cows, anthropomorphic vitamin jars, and a reindeer that kept gesturing at me to come over.
A better way of grabbing people’s attention, however, was simply by giving away a bunch of free stuff. They’d come in sachets, capsules, and even tote bags if you scanned a QR code. But even then, the most popular stalls still seemed to be the ones with the most name recognition. People were keen to touch, taste, smell and pick up the products they’d heard so much about first hand.
“We’ve had several Chinese customers recognise us this morning already,” a naturopath from Good Health tells me as she offers up a sample of Lactoferrin, a milk powder that supposedly “boosts immunity”.
“The whole event has been very casual so far with lots of local people coming through.”
“I think this expo is great for getting some face-to-face time with some of our customers,” says Jason Merrylees, sales manager at Nelson Honey whose Royal Nectar skincare range has proven particularly popular among China’s growing middle class.
“We’ve got a really loyal following with daigou (‘purchasing agents’) that have supported our product over the last few years, so it’s a good chance to catch up. We’ve got about 300-400 stores who stock our products so it’s good to see all our customers at once since we’re based down in Nelson.”
Merrylees believes that daigou played a huge part in attracting local customers to the event.
“Daigou will have friends and family in China that want New Zealand products, so they’ll come over here and they’ll buy and send it back to China, selling it at a higher price to cover the cost. That market exploded three or four years ago and we’ve done a lot of our business through that.
“Now our stuff goes out by the pallet rather than by the box. It’s been an amazing turnover.”
If anything, AliExpo 2019 was a chance for New Zealand’s wellness industry to put its best foot forward. Our ‘clean, green’ image remains an economic tour de force – our ingredients are ‘natural’, our products are ‘high-quality’, and our companies can be ‘trusted’ to improve the lives of China’s burgeoning middle class.
In the eyes of consumers, Aotearoa is still the land of (Fonterra) milk and (Manuka) honey – best believe businesses will be squeezing every last dollar out of it.