The year 2019 marked a turning point in the intense competition between foreign brands and domestic brands in China. For the first time, foreign companies outpaced their domestic counterparts in value growth. Foreign fast-moving consumer goods company sales grew by 9.5% in value in 2019 vs. Chinese company growth of 7%. Some of the gains have been quite dramatic; for example, L’Oréal grew sales by 35% in 2019.
This change has been steadily gaining momentum. In each of the past three years, the gap has narrowed to the point that in 2018, foreign multinational corporations’ compound annual growth rate of 7.1% was only slightly less than the 7.5% rate of Chinese companies. Foreign products often have higher average selling prices than Chinese brands, but that’s not the only factor that enables foreign brands to outperform Chinese companies. Foreign companies undoubtedly are learning how to win in China by taking a “4D” approach: Design for China, decide in China, deliver at China speed, and digitalize the China business (see the Bain Brief “Consumer Products: Now’s the Time to Double Down on China”). Foreign companies that sustain a strong presence in China are fluid enough to reinvent themselves as quickly and as often as needed. Millions of new Chinese consumers enter the market each year, essentially redefining demand. Winning brands are rigorous in tracking the trends and responding.