Two research and marketing studies are promising to shed new light on the buying habits of mainland consumers. AC Nielsen is to audit 2.2 million stores in 300,000 villages to investigate the importance of village economies to multinational companies retailing packaged consumer goods. Meanwhile, Ogilvy & Mather (O&M) has completed a study of the mainland's middle-class consumers, analysing brand strengths, the relationship between brands and the preference for certain nations when it comes to purchasing preferences. Steven Yung, AC Nielsen's North Asia managing director, said earlier studies indicated village stores accounted for 25 per cent of total national retail sales of packaged goods. Multinational brands also were surprisingly well-known among villagers. Mr Yung said information gleaned from the study would be invaluable for companies hoping to refine marketing operations in the heartland. O&M's study was carried out by its Beijing-based Ogilvy Brand Consult team. Brand Consult managing director Robert Pollard claimed the research marked the first time the mainland middle class had been studied in such a focused way, which combined brand-buying behaviour and a study of lifestyles. The data collected would be used to underline the purchasing power of the middle class that had emerged from the market reforms of the past two decades. 'Segmenting and learning the brand-buying behaviour of the Chinese middle class is critical for brand marketers,' said T. B. Song, president of O&M China.