Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Who's Winning China's Chocolate War?

M&M as Terracotta Warrior Credit: FITCH
At the new M&M's World chocolate megastore in Shanghai, the decor is a tribute to Chinese culture. There's a Great Wall of Chocolate and a massive M&M statue wearing the armor of a Terracotta Warrior. Chen JieTing, 20, posed for photos with an M&M wearing Bruce Lee's yellow jumpsuit. "I love M&Ms -- not too sweet and so cute," she said.

Chinese consumers traditionally prefer salty snacks, but the world's chocolate makers have been making converts -- and competing fiercely for market share -- in the high-stakes market that's home to 1.37 billion people. The local chocolate market has been growing 12% annually, according to Euromonitor International. China's embrace of chocolate has helped push up cocoa prices and contributed to fears of an international shortage. (Mars Inc., the maker of M&Ms. has warned the industry will need 1 million more metric tons by 2020 and is working on sustainable farming to boost yield.)

Meanwhile, Western brands have upped the ante in China by building factories and innovation centers, launching flashy campaigns, buying local chocolate makers and creating retail experiences like the M&M's store, which opened in August.

Mars, which also makes Snickers, has come out ahead, with a projected 39% of the Chinese market in 2014, according to Euromonitor. Its biggest hit is the Dove brand, which accounts for a whopping 34% of national chocolate consumption.

After the era of Chairman Mao Zedong, "when China's doors opened in 1979, you really had a billion people who had never tasted chocolate," said Lawrence Allen, a former Hershey and Nestlé executive in China. "It was a virgin market."

Companies rushed in and learned by trial and error -- Mars tried first with M&Ms. he said, but Dove was what took off. Hersheys had a hit with bite-size Kisses while others were selling 60- or even 80-gram bars, because "Chinese people do not sit down and eat 60 grams of chocolate at a time," said Mr. Allen, author of "Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China's Consumers."

There were cultural differences too. China traditionally classifies foods as "heating" and "cooling," concepts not about temperature but about the effect on the body. Chocolate is a heating food, so it's ill-advised for summer.

Read more at Adage.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The People’s Republic of Chemicals

The name of China is almost obscured by a grey smudge on the title page of The People’s Republic of Chemicals, and this image proves to be apt.  This book examines the crisis caused by toxic smogs that periodically choke vast regions of China and the massive particulate clouds that drift far beyond the country’s borders.

Authors William J. Kelly and Chip Jacobs joined forces once before in order to write their climate classic, Smogtown: the Lung Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles, a remarkable 2008 exposé and memoir about air quality, politics and health in Southern California’s smog belt. This time, the duo of self-described “smog gumshoes from Los Angeles” go farther afield to investigate air pollution that threatens to put a chokehold on the Pacific Rim. What’s more, Mandarin editions of both books will be available through the Central Party School Publishing House.

No doubt the translators were challenged to render some of the exaggerated gonzo phrases and slang from this “murky yarn of atmospheric pain and karma” into prose that doesn’t come across as glib or simply baffling.

“Ashtray-skied towns” abound and burning coal “cruds its troposphere like cigar smoke in a closet.”  Beijing is described as “the city where your oxygen sometimes came spiced with black char.” A chapter entitled “Tweets for the Wheezy” notes that “a Twitter account had economic superpowers throwing each other the stink eye.” It goes on to describe how the U.S. Embassy in Beijing inadvertently raised a ruckus in 2009 and 2010 by posting hourly readings of particulate pollution as measured on the roof of their former compound. Intended as a service for American travellers and embassy staff, the air quality statistics appeared on @BeijingAir, an embassy-run Twitter page, and showed that the capital’s atmosphere frequently was less healthy than the official daily averages posted by China’s Environmental Protection Bureau would indicate. Chinese officials took umbrage and tried to block the public’s access to these damning numbers.  It’s obvious that Kelly and Jacobs are relentless researchers, and they don’t hide a heavy reliance on secondary sources. They readily confide: “We Googled until our fingers tingled. Then we gasped.”
U.S. President Bill Clinton also emerges as an eco-villain. Although Clinton championed environmentalism in the United States, Kelly and Jacobs note how the bilateral trade deals made during his administration got the American consumers hooked on inexpensive Chinese goods. Prices were kept abnormally low because of China’s cheap but dirty energy sources and sweatshop wages paid to labourers. But exporting dirty manufacturing to China could not outsource pollution indefinitely, particularly when antiquated or wasteful methods were used there without modern filters. Regrettably, no provisions prevented China from financing highly contaminating coal-based projects.

“In post-W.T.O. China, something biologically creepy was only a factory pipe away,” the authors observe. They conclude that ultimately, the world cannot escape the consequences of carbon gluttony on its climate. Kelly and Jacobs urge President Xi Jinping “to make eco-restoration as much his legacy as ridding the party of the endemic graft he so loathes.”

Read more at ChinaFile.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Chinese Smartphone Brands Push Into U.S.

A host of Chinese smartphones have big ambitions for the U.S. -- but don't expect a flood of marketing from them.

Just a few weeks ago, research firm IDC declared that Xiaomi, a four-year-old Beijing company, had stormed to third in the worldwide smartphone market based on units shipped. Only a day later, it was leapfrogged when Lenovo completed its Motorola acquisition. These companies now aim to replicate industry leader Samsung's rise, parlaying success at home to go global.

Realizing this goal, however, could be an expensive marketing proposition for brands that are obscure outside of China. U.S. carriers are reluctant to carry the political risk (and marketing weight) of selling Chinese devices. That puts the onus on the smartphone brands themselves.

"Chinese brands don't do a great job of brand building," said Ben Bajarin, an analyst with Creative Strategies. "The cost to invest and build a brand in the U.S. seems a bit too daunting for them."

Daunting but tempting. Western markets still hold the industry's best margins -- and its prestige. "To be a truly global brand, you have to be in the U.S.," said Lawrence Lundy, a Frost & Sullivan analyst. He expects that some Chinese brands will follow Samsung's strategy of investing broadly in media; others will attempt to sell devices without spending big, like Apple. Here's what to expect from the top five. >>

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

A Map of Betrayal, An Ambivalent Double Agent, Torn Between Two Countries

When the Chinese writer Ha Jin came to the U.S. in 1985, he was only planning to stay long enough to finish his graduate degree. After that, he thought, he'd return home and teach English.

But a series of events shocked him into staying permanently, starting with the capture and trial of a Chinese spy named Larry Chin. Chin spent decades infiltrating the CIA, but swore at his trial that he was trying to improve the relations between the two countries.

Larry Chin "claimed that he was basically serving both countries. He used the metaphor 'mother and father' ... really, he was torn by the two countries," Ha Jin tells NPR's Arun Rath.

In 1989, the Tiananmen Square massacre took place. Ha Jin soon decided to settle permanently in America.

In the decades years since, his novels and stories have won him international acclaim and a National Book Award.

His newest novel, A Map Of Betrayal, describes the life of a spy who is deeply ambivalent about spying on America, a country he loves as much as China. There are unmistakable echoes of Larry Chin — and, Ha Jin tells Rath, of the novelist's own experiences.

Please read/listen the interview highlights with Hajin at NPR.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Kissing Your Socks Goodbye

By her own account, Marie Kondo was an unusual child, poring over lifestyle magazines to glean organizing techniques and then stealthily practicing them at home and school, confounding her family and bemusing her teachers.

As she writes in “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing,” which comes out this month in the United States and is already a best seller in her native Japan and in Europe, she habitually sneaked into her siblings’ rooms to throw away their unused toys and clothes and ducked out of recess to organize her classroom’s bookshelves and mop closet, grumbling about poor storage methodologies and pining for an S-hook.

Now 30, Ms. Kondo is a celebrity of sorts at home, the subject of a TV movie, with a three-month waiting list for her decluttering services — until recently, that is, because she has stopped taking clients to focus on training others in her methods. Last Friday, I brought her book home to practice them.

What better moment to drill down and ponder the fretful contents of one’s sock drawer? Global and national news was careering from the merely hysterical to the nonsensical (the Ebola cruise ship incident was just peaking). Closer to home, other anxieties beckoned. But in my apartment on Second Avenue, the world was no larger than my closet, and I was talking to my T-shirts.

Let me explain. Ms. Kondo’s decluttering theories are unique, and can be reduced to two basic tenets: Discard everything that does not “spark joy,” after thanking the objects that are getting the heave-ho for their service; and do not buy organizing equipment — your home already has all the storage you need.

Obsessive, gently self-mocking and tender toward the life cycle of, say, a pair of socks, Ms. Kondo delivers her tidy manifesto like a kind of Zen nanny, both hortatory and animistic.

“Don’t just open up your closet and decide after a cursory glance that everything in it gives you a thrill,” she writes. “You must take each outfit in your hand.”
“Does it spark joy?” would seem to set the bar awfully high for a T-shirt or a pair of jeans, but it turns out to be a more efficacious sorting mechanism than the old saws: Is it out of style? Have you worn it in the last year? Does it still fit?
The contents of one of Ms. Kondo’s own drawers.
You can find YouTube videos of her technique, but it’s not so hard: Fold everything into a long rectangle, then fold that in upon itself to make a smaller rectangle, and then roll that up into a tube, like a sushi roll. Set these upright in your drawers. And pour your heart into it, Ms. Kondo urges: Thank your stuff, it’s been working hard for you.

“When we take our clothes in our hands and fold them neatly,” she writes, “we are, I believe, transmitting energy, which has a positive effect on our clothes.”
She proposes a similarly agreeable technique for hanging clothing. Hang up anything that looks happier hung up, and arrange like with like, working from left to right, with dark, heavy clothing on the left: “Clothes, like people, can relax more freely when in the company of others who are very similar in type, and therefore organizing them by category helps them feel more comfortable and secure.”

Read more at NYTS.