4 Canadian Brands That Should Expand to China

Mon, 12/05/2016 - 06:04

As a consumer in both Canada & China, sometimes I come across Canadian brands that seem like they could be very successful in China. But why aren't the trying harder?

Tim Horton's

Perhaps the most iconic Canadian-style brand to Canadians, Tim Horton's seems like an easy match for China.

For those that don't know Tim Horton's, it's as ubiquitous in Canada as KFC is in China. It's a fast food china known for coffee, donuts, soup & sandwiches. It has a very strong, unique brand coupled with lower prices. 

Why should they enter China?

  1.  There are enough Canadian expats to make the first stores a success. Start a Tim Horton's in Shanghai, Beijing or Hong Kong and there will be line-ups. That would generate buzz and help get the ball rolling. The expat market shouldn't be the end-game, but it's the easiest place to start.
  2. They serve hot Western food. For Canadians, Tim Horton's always shows their hot food & warm comfortable atmosphere juxtaposed to the Canadian winter. It works. For Chinese consumers, I always consider it an uphill battle to try to sell warm food, especially if it contains vegetables. Tim Horton's sells warm items like sandwiches, soups and chili. They'd still need to make adjustments. I'd guess they'd want to decrease the sweetness, adjust serving sizes, add additional beverage flavours, etc. All doable. 
  3. It can be positioned as a quality Western brand, but less expensive than Starbucks. FYI, a Tim Horton's breakfast costs about the same as just one drink from Starbucks. From an outsider's perspective, 'Timmy's' seem's to be a very efficiently run business.
  4. It's owned by the same company that owns Burger King. They already have a footprint in China, so could use that to help introduce Tim Horton's.
  5. Finally, Tim Horton's is able to offer cheap breakfast, with plenty of eggs. Breakfast is an area I've noticed Western chains tend to struggle with in China. The morning coffee market is one that other chains seem to want to break into.

I'm sure hundreds of people must have pitched Tim Horton's on entering the Chinese market. So what am I missing here? Why haven't they invested in even a couple pilot stores in tier 1 cities?


Canada Goose

Image via http://www.businessinsider.com/canada-goose-ipo-2017-2016-10 

I've had Chinese friends ask about Canada Goose many times. Yet the brand doesn't even have a Chinese-language version of their website. Why is that?

The appeal of the brand seems to be that it is top quality and built for very cold weather. Really, if you want a warm jacket, where better to get it than Canada?

A quick Chinese search for Canada Goose shows that the groundwork for success is already laid out. There are retailers and "daigou" already promoting it. Reviews are positive.

This is one of those lucky brands that actually has recognition in China, unlike most of the clients that contact us. :)



Image via https://www.pinterest.com/mvabel/shanti/ 


Lululemon is a hugely successful apparel brand. It's listed by Forbes as one of the most innovative companies.

They already have a little presence in China, but it's rather limited. Here's why I think they could do better.

As far as online marketing goes, I can see that Lululemon has a TMall store, but that is not a market entry strategy on its own. A TMall store is just that... a store. Where's the marketing push? Where's the Lululemon spirit?

A lot is changing in the area of nutrition of exercise trends in China. Consumers are on the lookout for the next things. There's no doubt in my mind that most Chinese women still just want to be skinny. But others are opening up to other concepts about fitness & nutrition. I see a connection with Lululemon's brand messaging. Lululemon's English marketing uses words like "creative", "power", "sweat", "life", "happiness". They promote fitness as a lifestyle & a way to self-improvement, not just as a way to look good. But, when I do a quick look around the Chinese Internet for Lululemon, I just can't really get a sense of their brand...it comes off as being just another fitness clothing brand.

I can see that they have quite a few sales though - enough to gather plenty of feedback from consumers. I hope to see them come through with the type of branding that I've seen in Canada. In Canada and elsewhere, they come across as a brand that has a strong core and knows how to communicate it.


Brand Canada

The last brand I'll mention is Canada itself. National "brands" are very important on the world stage. We're often tasked with helping new companies enter the Chinese market. When they don't have brand recognition of their own yet, the image of their country is especially helpful.

Canada hasn't provided a unified brand image to China. It seems to be an uncoordinated effort from various regional governments, with the exception of travel perhaps.

Chinese consumers are busy, and they don't have time to learn about "Alberta beef" and "Nova Scotia lobster". Many of them can barely differentiate Canada from France or any other Western nation, let alone have a strong impression for different regions of Canada. If Canada wants to amplify their brand, they need to be a unified Brand Canada. And by that I mean dropping provincial brands & focusing on the country: Canadian beef, Canadian lobster, Canadian education, Canadian travel, Canadian environmental technology, immigration to Canada, Canadian wood, etc, etc.

Looks like there is some government effort to promote Brand Canada, but I haven't really seen it reflected in Canadian companies' marketing in China. Plus, we notice a relative lack of interest in the China coming from Canadian companies - even though we're based in Canada. There's so much more interest in China coming from USA, the UK and Australia.

As a sidenote, Canada has an excellent social media "KOL" on their side: Prime Minster Justin Trudeau. Perhaps the most marketable Western leader next to Obama.


What Else?

What do you think? Which other Canadian companies would be a good fit for China?

I'd guess the best ones could be up-and-comers that I don't know about.





Awake chocolate bar is also an interesting product that has potential in the Chinese market. It's a caffeinated chocolate bar. Coffee isn't huge in China, but Chinese people consume caffeinated products like Coke, Tea, and Red Bull. For high school students and young workers who frequently have to stay up late, Awake is a tastier alternative to energy/caffeinated drinks that helps its consumers concentrate longer while fulfilling the need to "munch on something" while doing work. Companies like Alibaba, when they were preparing for their employees for the 11.11 craze, stockpiled Red Bull and other energy drinks to help employees stay awake. How cool would it be to add Awake to the list?

Canada Goose is a good example. Unlike Roots, its less of a commodity product. In fact, the exclusivity of it may help enhance the brand's image.

Thanks Kevin.

Ya, good idea. I'm not sure about the potenial for Awake chocolate bars in China, but I think I should try some myself. :)

In fact, I'm sure there are loads of Canadian companies with great potential in China.

Add new comment