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Startup Innovation Challenge

Spotlight on startup innovation in China [Interview]

© AdobeStock/Pixel-Shot Spotlight on startup innovation in China
China is a market that requires a lot of effort to succeed in but brings startups great rewards - particularly with the right partner on the ground to help de-code and de-risk, says Marc-Antoine Olive, CEO and co-founder of Feast Creative Foods.
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Feast Creative Foods explores, seeds and scales innovative food and beverage brands on the Chinese market, with a strong focus on e-commerce.  We speak to Marc-Antoine, jury member of the Fi Global Startup Innovation Challenge, who has held management, marketing and business development roles for 20 years within major food multinationals including Danone, PepsiCo and General Mills, for some advice on succeeding in China.

What makes China an interesting market for food & drink startups?

“More than just the population and the market size, it is the openness for innovation of Chinese Millennials and Gen-Z. Second is the competitive nature of the market. It forces you to be very sharp on every single element of the execution strategy, from the consumer position, the go-to-market, as well as the innovation cadence.”  

“Globally, China is really spearheading the social commerce world: online buying and the cross-over between social interactions online and e-commerce. Operating in China therefore offers the ability to be exposed to these online social commerce technologies that will help startups […]  to be even better and stronger in all other geographies.” 

How business friendly is China, and do you have any advice for startups on how to overcome the seemingly daunting language and regulatory barriers?

“If you look broadly at the ecosystem, China is challenging. But it is a high effort, high reward market. When you have something really superior and relevant for consumers such as a proposition or a technology, China is friendly.”

“You just need to have the right partner on the ground that can help you to de-code and de-risk. Because of the size and potential of the market, startups tend to think that it is okay to burn cash on the blind way for a couple of years. However, we advise startups or investors to learn step-by-step about the market to avoid spending too much cash and human resources at first.” 

Are there any ‘white space’ areas where innovation is still needed?

“Yes, I think there is a need for the alternative protein space. However, it must be done in a different way because the drivers for alternative protein and plant-based food and beverage are slightly different in China. The second is around personalised nutrition. The idea of personalised smart nutrition of functional food is something that is very promising for China. Finally, within health and wellness, I think fitness and body enhancement is something that is growing fast as well, with huge potential in how to bring the food supplement space into tasty, convenient, and nice-to-experience F&B solutions.”
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