‘Ingredients, experience and safety’: The value of French identity in China’s cut-throat cosmetics market

By Amanda Lim

- Last updated on GMT

‘Ingredients, experience and safety’: The value of French identity in China’s cut-throat cosmetics market
France’s cosmetics industry is considered one of the leaders in the market, but with strong competition from international and regional brands, can French companies leverage on its national identity to maintain an edge in the cut-throat Chinese market?

For Laurence Fremy, APAC Director of Laboratoires Expanscience, and Raphaëlle Faure, Export Manager of Biologique Recherche, simply being made-in-France is not enough for the Chinese cosmetics market.

The French identity?

Speaking at Cosmoprof Asia 2018, Fremy believes France conjures up more than images of glamour, elegance and sophistication. “To me, the French Identity means first of all, the right choice of ingredients. Second of all, it relates to experience, in terms of manufacturing and exporting cosmetics all over the world. The last point, which is extremely important, is safety.”

She stressed that because of China’s spotted past with safety, the French reputation for safety is especially important for Chinese consumers. She added that it was one of the contributing factors to the success of Laboratoires Expanscience’s baby skin care brand, Mustela.

Faure admitted that Biologique Recherche French heritage does speak to Chinese consumers. “We associate ourselves with the Parisian chic all the time. We provide consumers with expertise, but also a little bit of the dream. We try to bring Paris to Shanghai and Beijing by creating amazing centres where you can have a little bit of Paris.”

Of course, the company does not rely solely on its French heritage, added Faure. “Being French helps to break into the market as you have reputation that opens doors. But it’s your expertise that makes it successful.”

She added: “You have to provide cutting-edge results. You have to provide a real customer experience to your consumer who is now more and more knowledgeable, more curious and cautious.”

Despite this, Faure said that the company will not compromise on its identity. For example, she elaborated, the brand has remained adamant that all its products should bear a French name.

“All our products have French names and it can be a nightmare, but we kept that and we are going to keep on having French names even though the marketing team is fighting us all the time. We believe it makes a difference, it is who we are, and our identity and it is part of the experience.”

Local matters

Fremy pointed out that it is crucial to learn more about the local market and keep up with the specific needs and concerns of local consumers. “We must not believe being French is enough here in Asia and in China. For example, here the [effects of pollution] is really important. So we should take it in consideration to constantly improve our ranges.”

Additionally, Fremy admitted that it can be tricky to learn how to communicate with local consumers. “Sometimes it comes down to cultural differences, and it forces us to find the right way, an Asian way, to explain to the consumer.”

As such, both Fremy and Faure rely on a trustworthy team of locals to help them navigate the Chinese market.

“We are successful because we have amazing partners,” ​said Faure. “We are very lucky to have partners who are in it for the long run.”

To further its commitment in China, Biologique Recherche will be organising its first national seminar in China, which will provide training for local professionals such as spa managers, dermatologists, and beauticians.

This event, explained Faure will help the brand connect with beauty professionals and glean precious insights into the local consumer. “We need to be listeners, to make sure we understand the market. These professionals are with the consumer, and it’s their market.”

“I can talk all day about China, but I don’t work there. I’m in-charge but I’m travelling five times a year but still, I don’t know [as well as locals]. You can’t come from a foreign country and say: ‘I know, I know’. It doesn’t work that way.”

Going local digitally

Considering the importance of online distribution in China, Fremy believes it is important for brands to be able to adapt. She revealed that Laboratoires Expanscience is planning to invest into its digital channels, which included revamping one of its physical Mustela stores in Hong Kong to become a “highly digitised” virtual store.

“What we are going to do in China, and Northern Asia… is become more active on online distribution channels. We are in the baby industry, and the young mothers are all buying online and we need to be there and find the best way to be active.”

Unlike Laboratoires Expanscience, Biologique Recherche has no plans to go digital. In fact, Faure explicitly stated that the company is actively trying to avoid online sales to protect the integrity of the brand and its consumers.

“Some of our customers think we are snob and we refuse to be online to push them to [buy products offline] but this is part of the experience,” ​she explained. “We provide personalised skin care and this requires skin analysis. It requires people who have been trained, who understand cosmetics and the properties of your skin. You can’t just pick and go and use it as you want.”

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