28 Mar 2018
Find your niche – and keep yourself slim. That’s the advice of Jamie Thurin, the son part of the mother-and-son business team behind nutritional snack producer snack Slim Secrets, an Australian company striving to find success in the Chinese market.
“Healthy snacking is not something Chinese consumers are familiar with so it’s a big challenge for us to educate the customer and create that awareness,” says Thurin, who serves as International Sales Director at Slim Secrets.
"Product values and benefits need to be explained in a culturally relevant way to Chinese consumers.” - Thurin
Creating that niche was a challenge. In Asia – and particularly China – Slim Secrets found traditional cultural ideas around weight-loss and meal replacement products were still common. Many convenience stores stocked confectionary and sugary drinks to fill the gap in between meals.
"[Our Chinese marketing is] not just a direct translation of our western advertising,” Thurin says. “The product values and benefits need to be explained in a culturally relevant way to Chinese consumers. In Australia, consumers recognise functional benefits such as high protein, low fat or low sugar. In China, consumers are more concerned with how it will make them feel."
“It’s the emotive side of it – feel good, look good – [which] really is a different kind of messaging.”
Thurin’s mother Sharon founded Slim Secrets in 2005 after working as a health-and-wellness coach. There she noticed a gap in the market for indulgent, tasty, nutritionally balanced snacks for suggesting to clients to eat between meals.
Originally meant only as a hobby, Slim Secrets has seen rapid growth which Thurin puts down to a mix of the niche opportunity presented at the time coupled with the constant evolution of its business and strategy.
“Our first experience with the China market was through a third-party trader selling our products online,” Thurin says. “There was really good traction and we realised there was an excellent opportunity to get involved in a much bigger way.”
Thurin joined Slim Secrets full time in 2015. The company has been exporting for over 12 years and is now present in 15 countries.
Since 2016 it has graduated from traditional retail channels to lucrative ecommerce platforms in Asia, including China’s Tmall and Taobao, as well as the Lazada platform in South East Asia.
Making it click
Online success wasn’t immediate. After some testing, Slim Secrets discovered having a wide range online was initially detrimental to sales.
“Finding our hero products was a big improvement,” Thurin says. “Having 24 products on our listing was too many. Having four or five which are more relevant to them was better for customers who are not familiar with the brand.”
Alone that’s not enough. Once products are available on ecommerce, regular promotions are required to drive customers to the pages and convert sales, Thurin says.
“Facebook and Instagram are essential for us in the Australia market,” he says. “In China we are on social networks like Weibo, WeChat and leverage optimisation on the Chinese search engine Baidu to ensure customers can find our product.”
Finding the right marketing partners to conduct research and run campaigns in a Chinese language market has been a challenge, Thurin says.
“Marketing is very expensive in China,” he says. “Understanding which partner is right for your brand, your needs, your budget and desire in the market is important.”
“There’s so much you can’t do on your own, from setting up your WeChat in Chinese and getting onto various ecommerce platforms. Through our consultants in Shanghai, we essentially have Chinese staff on the ground in China.”
Slim Secrets has carried out influencer marketing through brand ambassadors including tennis champion Angelique Kerber, singer Avril Lavigne, TV personality Sophie Monk and world champion athlete Sally Pearson, all of whom have contributed to sales growth in Asia.
New research suggests two key factors in the success of Slim – an in-demand, high-quality product and extensive market knowledge – are growing in importance as success factors for Australia SMEs expanding into Asia.
The insights come from the 2018 ANZ Opportunity Asia Report, a survey of 1,000 Australian business decision-makers across a variety of industries. The annual report is designed to capture sentiments around international growth to identify best practice, share insights and highlight opportunities for businesses in Asia while providing guidance on how to navigate the many challenges in the region.
Slim Secrets appears as a case study in the report, which can be downloaded HERE from October 25.
Thurin says an important insight from Slim Secrets' experience is the value of approaching Chinese consumers in Australia first to gauge an idea of how the product may fare in the market proper.
These consumers can “push your brand in a much more cost effective way and help communicate it to friends and family China who are asking about products from Australia,” Thurin says.
“Once that is established you can look at extending into the China market overseas, but you can’t skip those first two steps if you want to sustain your momentum.”
This advice is supported by the insights from the Opportunity Asia Report. Inbound tourists to Australia make an important impact to the Australian economy and often advocate to friends and family about the quality of ‘Brand Australia’ when they return home, the research suggests.
China overtook New Zealand as the largest source of visitors to Australia in 2018.
Research has been essential to the success of Slim Secrets and Thurin urges other SMEs passionate about the Asia opportunity to do their homework first.
“Timing for an SME is important,” he says. “It can be costly just going on a ‘fishing expedition’ to the market and not actually catch anything, if you don’t fully understand your capability and readiness.
"Talk to partners, talk to consultants, do plenty of research before you start spending money that could be better spent at home to promote your brand.”
Don’t wait forever, Thurin says.
“There’s a huge demand for Australian products in China and all around the world, and I think if you’re ever thinking of giving it a go, now is the time to do that.”
Mark Hand is Group Executive, Australia Business and Private Bank at ANZ
The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.
28 Mar 2018
01 Oct 2018