(“You can take China II out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of China II”).
Arrival in Chengdu
During the commotion and fanfare of the CEN conference, we made it a priority to gorge ourselves on western food while we still could. On the top of most everyone’s list was a juicy burger for which we had researched extensively. Nick made it a point to periodically mention (should we choose to defy him) Chengdu’s best burger was at a place called The Underground. However, upon arriving the waitress informed us that they were no longer serving burgers. A second attempt was made at finding a burger the next night, but Nick was again thwarted by a democratic vote. The only way to avoid a complete meltdown was to give into Nick’s demands. So the third night we made a priority to have a burger at a foreign-owned restaurant called The Lazy Pug. Nick did finally get his burger, but three of us did not since the restaurant only had enough buns for two. Revenge is sweet, I suppose.*
From the onset, we knew that the second phase of this project would be much different than the first. For the first group, it was necessary to stay in Anyue to interview farmers, processors, and wholesalers to develop a current-state analysis. For us, on the other hand, we quickly realized the slow pace of small town living and lack of resources would hold us back. Marketing is by nature consumer-oriented, and in order to understand those consumers, we had to get to Chengdu, quickly. Though it was a shame we would have to spend the next week in one of China’s most live-able cities, but such are the sacrifices we are willing to make.
Our time in Chengdu conveniently coincided with the CEN conference, so we decided to take advantage of our time there and line up as many meetings as possible beforehand. In a matter of two days, we had set up meetings with heads of marketing departments for a wholesaler and a major processor out of Anyue, in addition to focus groups and in-person surveys. One of our ultimate goals for taking our project to the city was to get in touch with the right people. Since the beginning of the project, we knew it would imperative that we spoke with the purchasing managers of grocery stores in China to get insight into how they chose their products, by what standards, and how they matched this with consumer tastes. Meeting after meeting led to additional contacts and brought us that much closer to our goal. One particularly fruitful meeting with the manager of Yuwang, a major exporter for Anyue lemons, ended with her offering to put us in touch with the agricultural representative at the American consulate as well as offering to finding a Chinese wife for Nick. The first offer did eventually materialize, but we are still waiting on the latter.
In the Field
Given the short amount of time we had in Chengdu, and one missing team member (Tim was in Beijing doing his own focus groups), we decided to split the team into two teams: Alpha and Beta. Team Alpha, Nick and I, focused on arranging and conducting focus groups. We had already secured plenty of lemon processed products after meeting with the marketing department for Huatong. We also scoured grocery stores all over Chengdu for competitor products, and came up with a variety of lemon products for taste testing, including: lemon water, lemon slices, and honey lemon tea. The focus groups were then split into two groups of six and eleven people, respectively. The first group consisted of students 25 to 26 years old while the second group had a wider age range of 33 – 58 years old. The focus groups went off smoothly without a hitch and gained some valuable insight into consumers’ tastes, perceptions, and brand awareness. All of this, of course, would not be possible without the help of our trusty partner from Xinan Jiaotong University, Janet Tang.
Team Beta had an equally ambitious goal to collect hundreds of surveys from people in-person at grocery stores. Dan and Matt were given the task of conducting research at the French supermarket chain, Carrefour, and the upscale Chinese chain, Ren Ren Le. Lessons on the appropriate way to conduct surveys in-person were learned quickly when both Dan and Matt attempted to approach people with their Chinese partner from Jiaotong University, Bella Liu. Many Chinese locals seemed immediately uncomfortable when two foreigners, a rarity in their own right, approached with Bella holding an i-Pad and asking questions about lemons. Matt and Dan then resolved to cataloging competitor products and prices throughout the store while Bella did the surveys. Not surprisingly, the local grocery chain was much more receptive to their inquiries than the foreign chain. For both team Alpha and Beta, this was in addition to our usual meetings with wholesalers, exporters, purchasing managers, and the American consulate.
Overall, our week in Chengdu was one of the most productive weeks so far. This may have been because the entire group felt under pressure to get something done during our limited time in Chengdu. Or, it could have been because of the vast amount of resources available to us in the city. Most importantly though, by meeting with influential people in the lemon industry, we were better informed on the needs of various stakeholders as well as given a chance to build relationships and gain buy-in for our project.
*Nick confirms that the revenge was not only sweet, but also came with melted cheddar cheese.