Chinese appliance giant Gree held a blind test recently in a bid to demonstrate that its rice cookers can match the best-selling foreign brands in terms of food quality satisfaction.
In the event, which was held in partnership with a media group, Gree asked people to sample rice cooked in several appliances — which included three well-known Japanese labels and a new Gree brand named Tosot — and pick the best one.
When the results were tallied, it was found that the rice cooked from different models got roughly the same number of votes.
That offered a chance to Gree to proclaim that its products are as good as the best from around the world.
It is as much a marketing gimmick as Gree’s resolution to challenge the high-end foreign brands, as well as change Chinese consumers’ preconception that foreign-made products are always superior.
During the Chinese New Year holiday last month, 6 million mainland tourists are said to have splurged more than 90 billion yuan on overseas products, buying everything from medicine to cosmetics and rice cookers to electronic toilet seats.
“This really pissed me off,” said Dong Mingzhu, president of Gree.
“I also feel sad about it. Rice cookers and electronic toilet seats aren’t exactly rocket science; why are our consumers buying them from abroad?”
Dong lashed out at mainland makers who ill-treated their customers in the past by selling poor-quality products.
The short-sighted practices are now backfiring as customers no longer believe in made-in-China stuff, she said.
Japanese Induction heating (IH) rice cookers have been hugely popular with Chinese tourists. The technology is said to enable more-even heating and makes the rice cooked this way more tasty.
There are many China-made IH cookers in the market, available at just one fifth of the price of Japanese models.
However, the problem is this: The Chinese may have copied the looks of the foreign products but not the essence.
Mainland manufacturers, especially the smaller players, typically don’t want to risk their own money on research and development. They prefer to copy and then undercut foreign rivals with much cheaper — and lower quality — products.
Some Chinese brands would rather invest aggressively on marketing campaigns to boost sales of a poor product, rather than investing in the product itself and upgrading the quality.
Because they didn’t do a good job in serving domestic buyers, Chinese customers had increasingly turned to overseas suppliers.
Gree wants to change that. And it hopes that other Chinese firms will also follow its path.
“By keeping consumers’ interests in mind, we can become as good, or even surpass, the foreign players,” Dong said.
Mainland consumers’ shopping mania abroad is powerful evidence that the Chinese are now wealthier and they want better products. The upgrading trend is solid and the market potential huge.
Given this, low-cost cloners face a stark reality: upgrade or perish.
China’s labor and other resources are still very cost competitive compared to major foreign rivals, even after the wage hikes in the mainland in recent years.
As long as companies are willing to put their hearts into their work and place customer interests above short-term profits, they can turn the upgrading trend into a golden opportunity.
President Xi Jinping’s supply-side reform would basically require firms to produce better things, stuff that people really want.
IH rice cookers, for one, could be a starting point.
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