The chocolate company, best known for its 61% dark bar, is expected to compete directly with Mars and Hershey as the Chinese chocolate confectionery market has long been dominated by western brands, said the candy industry trade body China Candy.
Mars continues to lead China’s chocolate market with a 37% value share in 2017, according to Euromonitor data.
Founded in 2003, Aalst sources cocoa beans from all over the world, and blends them based on its “proprietary recipes,” said the company. It also manufactures single-origin chocolate bars for customers who prefer regional characteristics of cocoa.
CEO of food importer Nenglong Foods (能隆食品), Zhong Wang, said he discovered Aalst at a tradeshow in May of 2017 before he decided to bring it to China. “Aalst is a brand with nice packaging and high quality ingredients. It has great potential in the domestic market,” he said.
“We’re hoping to use their 61% chocolate bar as an ‘ice-breaker’ and a better-for-you option to attract Chinese millennial consumers… We’re also going to introduce more varieties in the future,” Wang added.
He mentioned Aalst is a “high growth” company as its annual production increased from 7,200 tons in 2004 to 30,000 tons in 2017.
Fit the Asian palate
Wang, who previously helped Hershey expand its distribution in China, said it would be easier for Chinese consumers to familiarize with other Asian brands.
“We had many imported chocolates in the past, like Dove and Hershey, and they all tried to be assimilated to look like domestic brands,” he said, “Aalst’s products don’t taste as sweet, so they have a natural advantage among our shoppers who want to eat less sugar.”
Wang added Aalst’s launch would be supported by a comprehensive digital marketing, and the brand has introduced seasonal gift boxes right before Chinese New Year of 2018 (Feb 16).