Coffee and “I love Chinese food”

...a collection of ad hoc observations, news snippets and quirky musings that we hope you will find informative, interesting and enlightening.

18 October 2013
A song titled “I Love Chinese Food”, sung by 12-year-old Alison Gold and released on YouTube has gone viral, garnering over 8 million views since it was uploaded just a few days ago. In the video, Gold jives against a background that includes a man dressed in a giant panda costume. “I love Chinese food, you know that it’s true, I love fried rice, I love noodles, I love chow mien, chow mo-mo-mo-mo-mien!”

While some audiences in the West have ridiculed the song, viewers in China have been more receptive. Some called the video “some sort of foreign divine comedy”, even pointing out that “Alison Gold’s technique for holding her chopsticks is not bad.”

Such diverse views epitomise the varied perception of local audiences to an 'international product'. Multinational corporations doing business in China know this first hand. Starbucks, the popular American coffee chain, is targeting China to be its second biggest market globally by early 2014. Ironically, coffee consumption in the country is relatively low. In 2012, an average Chinese person consumed about two cups of coffee per year, far below the global average of 134 cups a year1. Coffee's share of the hot-drink market is less than 1% compared to tea's 54%.

To lure in more customers, Starbucks offers a cushy place for casual socialising while serving more of its pricey, local specialities such as red bean frappuccinos and other snacks. Its premises cater for a segment of the market between fast food and higher-end restaurants. As a result, coffee shops have become the hub for casual professional meetings, job interviews and social meet-ups. Essentially, coffee shops in China rent out couch space.

This echoes the old marketing adage proclaimed by Charles Revson (pioneer of the Revlon cosmetics company): "In the factory we make cosmetics; in the drugstore we sell hope." Might this principle apply the other way as China moves from being the world’s factory for manufactured goods towards one where it distributes more of its services? It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but they may find ways to serve coffee with Chinese food.

William Liu Chief Investment Officer