Chinese slow to develop a taste for chocolate
Taste develops slowly as mainlanders eat the equivalent of just two Snickers bars each year
Michelangelo's David stands proud next to the Eiffel Tower in a Beijing display, flanked by the Great Wall and the terracotta army and all made of chocolate.
The edible exhibit reflects not only how eager confectionery sellers are to reach the world's biggest market, but also what tremendous effort it takes.
Increasingly wealthy shoppers have embraced global trends enthusiastically, from coffee to Hollywood films and smartphones, and have become the world's largest market for goods from beer to cars.
Yet when it comes to chocolate the average Chinese, having little sweet tooth or familiarity with it, consumes only 100 grams a year, the equivalent of two Snickers bars.
By comparison, the Japanese eat 11 times more chocolate, Americans 44 times, and Germans 82 times as much, market research firm Euromonitor said in a report in November.
"The chocolate market is in its infancy and it's still there even 30 years" after the country opened up to the world, industry expert Lawrence Allen said, adding that "it was totally foreign to the palate of the people at the time".
Retail sales in China have risen an average of 17 per cent annually for the past five years and the country's luxury market is projected to grow by 20 per cent a year for the next decade.
That makes the expansion in chocolate sales, projected at 10 per cent through to 2015, look torpid by comparison.
Many companies are trying to capitalise on the preferences for luxuries and gift-giving by rebranding chocolate as a premium indulgence, a classy present and a mark of taste and international flair.
The Italian brand Ferrero Rocher is set to have enjoyed the fastest jump in market share for the second successive year in 2012, Euromonitor said.
It had 8.4 per cent of the mainland market, up by almost a third in just two years.
The Belgian brand Godiva said its lavish gift sets, which have been created for specific holidays, had tapped into the tradition of exchanging presents.
For the Lunar New Year, Godiva's best-selling 18-piece gift box, which features tea flavours and snake designs, has been selling for 488 yuan (HK$601).