• The Silk Initiative

The Big Five for 2022

TSI's trend predictions for the new year

With over 60% of the world’s population, lumping Asia-Pacific into one market is an impossible task. From the northernmost reaches of Siberia, down to the choppy waters off the Tasmanian coast, east to the noisy fish markets of Japan and over to the colourful, spice-laden kitchens of India, the region is multifaceted and unique. Yet even in this uniqueness, there are points of convergence increasingly impacting how consumers view your brand. ​

To identify what these points might be for next year, we tapped into our on-the-ground knowledge and networks. That includes several dozen in-depth projects conducted throughout the year, proprietary data from TSI Navigator™ for markets like China, Indonesia, Japan, and Thailand, as well as speaking to trusted experts across APAC to get a better understanding of what might be influencing consumer purchase habits. ​

All of this has helped us pinpoint our big five for 2022. ​

#1: The Pandemic's Impact Continues

What we’re seeing. Border closures, vaccine hesitancy, and new variants mean the global pandemic is anything but over. This has had, and continues to have, an impact on trade, business, and innovation across the region. For many of our clients, getting products to consumers has been problematic. In China, the once-heralded daigou market has plummeted, while at trade fairs distributors are having a difficult time attracting international clients. Not being able to meet face-to-face has also led to difficultly co-creating across departments.

How this could play out in 2022. While some markets are easing trade restrictions, and global supply chains are starting to get back to normal, the biggest market in the region doesn’t seem ready to play ball. China has given no indication it will open borders or streamline shipping and distribution. When it comes to innovation, however, new digital technologies are paving the way for the workplace of the future.

Three things to consider.

  • Diversify. It never makes sense to have all your eggs in one basket. That’s why, now more than ever, it’s important to diversify. In particular, diversify your market strategies for Asia-Pacific. Instead of banking on Chinese consumers, consider other major players in the region. Singapore, Korea, Thailand, and Indonesia are all great markets to add to your mix.

  • Know what’s happening on the ground. Having trusted partners on the ground across Asia is also important. In our work we often come across major brands who entrust the finer details to local partners, but fail to ensure guidelines are being followed. This can lead to mismatched visual identity, price discrepancies, and overall brand diminishment. If you can’t get to your product markets because of border closures, being confident in your partners is a big deal.

  • Don’t forget the big picture. While Covid-19 might be big news now, it will eventually die down. That’s why strategic brands are already looking well into the future when it comes to planning. You, too, should consider the bigger picture. Where is the market headed, even with impacts from the pandemic, over the next 5 or 10 years? Which regional players are challenging for supremacy and which are becoming less viable to work with?

#2: Sustainability Becomes More Than a Buzzword

What we’re seeing. Although 52% of Chinese say they are influenced by the environmental record of a company, turning that influence into a purchase driver is not as evolved. While most consumers agree sustainability-related issues are important, they just aren’t important enough to base purchase decisions around. Other considerations, like quality, taste, and safety, continue to be the most critical to conversion. TSI has discovered four main eco-segments., with Chinese consumers unlikely to engage in substantial behavioural or practical change to their daily routines when it comes to sustainability.

How this could play out in 2022. Government regulations, announcements, and promotion have helped to increase awareness of sustainability issues across the country. Post-Glasgow, expect the Government to continue pushing Chinese consumers towards associating terms around eco-purchases and sustainability beyond food safety and the environment. This may especially fall under social good areas.

For a full analysis of what sustainability means to the Chinese consumer, read TSI’s most recent Navigator™ Compass.

Three things to consider.

  • Understand your consumer. Defining what sustainability means is different to different people. TSI’s in-house Climate Collage Workshop digs deep into the thinking of consumers to gain an understanding of how they interpret key aspects of sustainability. Through the Workshop, we identify imagery that can be used to support sustainability messaging, as well as generate inspiration for brands to build a full-scope sustainability activation strategy. Notable clients using our Climate Collage Workshop include Dove Chocolates and Silver Fern Farms.

  • Barriers to adoption still exist. The most obvious is cost. As with other markets around the world, most sustainable products are relatively expensive. While Chinese consumers have increasing disposable income, they are largely still frugal in their purchase decisions. TSI NavigatorTM data shows only 30% of consumers are willing to pay a high premium for sustainable brands. Unless a product’s eco track record can justify the spend, through quality, taste, or societal contribution, it’s unlikely to fly off the shelves.

  • Brand positioning is key. Our expert analysis, backed by data-rich insights from TSI NavigatorTM, revealed five key elements to keep in mind when developing sustainability positioning: claims must be easy to understand and have clear benefits; a brand’s story must be relevant to Chinese consumers; people pay attention to packaging details; sustainable products are seen as more sincere; and, brands can capitalise on sustainability through creative, tangible campaigns.

#3: Function Over Form

What we’re seeing. Functional foods are nothing new in APAC. Functional health benefits – addressing everything from fatigue to sleep quality, digestion, beauty, and immunity – are things consumers are willing to pay more for. Our data indicates a particular desire for products that boost immunity or help with fatigue, especially in the dairy category. Different categories also have specific functional drivers. For example, savoury and sweet snack companies can differentiate their brands using key health indicators like low sugar, salt, or fat.

How this could play out in 2022. Over the next year, our data indicates we see a stronger balance between function and daily life. Instead of consumers only caring about products with the greatest functional benefits, they’ll balance this out with normal lifestyle, health, and eating habits. Most interestingly, this will play out in seemingly contradictory ways. Trends like “punk health” and “healthy vices” are likely to increase.

Three things to consider.

  • Are you standing out for the right reasons? Consumers are very conscious of claims made by brands. Keeping things simple, like with a “low-sugar” call-out, might not be enough to convince shoppers. Yet, going too over the top might call into question legitimacy and honestly of claims. Brands must find the happy medium to stand out.

  • The traditional is still relevant. Brands must consider how their products tie in with views of traditional health benefits. In China, concepts within traditional medicine are key purchase drivers for consumers. These vary by product and claim. For example, “reducing inner heat” is the second most important purchase driver for tea, yet it barely registers for other products.

  • Where’s the balance? While function is still paramount, consumers are moving towards a more balanced approach to product selection. Explaining how your product can help achieve this balance, yet is still differentiated from the rest of the pack, will help drive conversion.

#4: Personal Health and Wellness Evolves

What we’re seeing. The pandemic has put a focus back on overall health and wellness. Nowhere is this more true than in the explosion of plant-based meat alternatives across Asia. Companies are competing to grab a spot in a space once dominated solely by tofu. In doing so, they are finding innovative means towards new product development, flavour profiling, and collaboration. There have also been moves away from short-term health and wellness (i.e.: going to the gym) to longer-term focal areas (healthy ageing, brain health, and stress reduction).

How this could play out in 2022. The number one area of wellness is in holistic stress reduction. In our work speaking to consumers of all different age groups, particularly with regard to mental health, stress comes up again and again. This is noted especially by working-age consumers who take issue with the exacerbation of the 9-9-6 workplace and impact it’s having on their lives.

Three things to consider.

  • Healthy ageing. There is a real gap in the healthy ageing space. Our work with seniors has shown unique segment health needs are not being addressed. For example, our work on brain health revealed a propensity to use prescription medication to solve issues, regardless of severity, versus advising a more holistic healthy living approach to patients.

  • Psychological impact of health. For those who may be experiencing health issues, including stress and for those who are older, there is a fear of becoming burdensome on family and friends. This has a negative psychological impact and stands in the way of effective treatment. Consider how your product or brand can create a constructive dialogue along with solving a functional need.

  • Don’t hide behind euphemisms. Interestingly, older consumers just want the facts. There is no need to use flowery language or try to spare feelings. In one study TSI conducted with seniors, a brand used the colour white as a nice way to describe grey hair. Respondents were clear they didn’t like the term, asking instead for labels like “senior” and “50+” versus trying to hide behind niceties.

#5: Pets As Consumers

What we’re seeing. Pet ownership has exploded across APAC over the last five years. This is being driven by a younger generation who are foregoing children, yet still hungry for companionship. In China, pets are also a status symbol for the upwardly mobile. As such, having access to the highest quality, imported food is important. This, in turn, has led to a boom in sales for global pet food brands. In particular, we are seeing moves towards premium freeze-dried pet foods, as well as specialised raw or cooked foods.

How this could play out in 2022. An explosion of new brands means differentiation and trust are key. Most pet owners have little experience in the space, but they are looking to make smarter, informed decisions. We expect social media and KOL influence to grow, meaning brands have to be one step ahead to keep their product top-of-mind.

Three things to consider.

  • Benchmark against infant products. Taking care of a fur baby is no different than a child. Consumers are willing to spend big on the best. Consider taking inspiration from the infant product category.

  • Don’t discount local competition. Immature regulatory frameworks mean some brand stories are too good to be true. Unfortunately, these tall tales have worked to establish stronger trust with consumers.

  • Traditional medicinal cues. As with functional foods, traditional medicine is a consideration point for pet food purchases. Consider the perceived impact of certain ingredients on pet health when designing flavour profiles.

A special free extra prediction is something we've all become used to over the past two years: expect the unexpected. As the world continues to move at warp speed, change is the only constant. Having the right advisors in place will go a long way towards helping your brand navigate these changing times.

Feel free to contact our experts to discuss these predictions in even more detail.

Andrew Cameron acameron@thesilkinitiative.com

Evelyn Hussain evelyn@thesilkinitiative.com

Eric Lin eric@thesilkinitiative.com

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