Monday, February 06, 2006

Branding soymilk?

Soymilk—did you ever notice that there appear to be two demographics for soymilk? What I mean by this is that when I go to T & T, the asian supermarket, my family will always buy the “Chinese” brand of soy milk, Sunrise for choice (my uncle says they make the smoothest and best tasting soy milk of all the brands, and I agree). However, if you look around the refrigerated food section, you’ll probably notice that there are other “Westerners” brands of soy milk, including So Good, So Nice, and Silk. Peer into people’s carts, and you’ll likely notice that the Asian shoppers have only the Chinese brands in their carts, such as Sunrise. Caucasian shoppers, on the other hand, tend to have the other brands and will pick up flavoured soymilk (chocolate, anyone?). Is it mere coincidence that there is an “ethnic” division in the brand of soymilk? Something can be said, I believe, about tastes and expectations when it comes to soymilk; while you are buying essentially the same thing no matter what kind of carton it comes in, brands such as So Good and So Nice are clearly targeted towards a non-asian consumer, while something like Sunrise is predominantly drunk by Asians. Look at the packaging, for instance; the Western soymilk comes in colourful cartons with labelling in English. To me, the packing style is reminiscent of milk packaging. On the other hand, Asian soymilk is much simpler, featuring only text in Chinese and English and no images. Could the reason why Westerners don’t buy the Asian brands be a taste issue, my friends suggested. S. and L. pointed out that for many non-Asians the flavour of soymilk can be off-putting; L. says that she often buys chocolate-flavoured soymilk because its easier to drink. I do agree, the Asian brands taste more “beany” than the Western brands, which I find have quite a cooked flavour like evaporated milk. Well, I see the point and perhaps familiar packaging and different flavours make soymilk more palatable and appealing to those who did not grow up drinking soymilk. S. pointed out the organic factor as a reason for many Westerners choosing something like So Nice over other brands. Are Asian people less concerned about food being organic? In my very small range of experience, organic groceries are certainly not as important to Chinese people as to Caucasian people.

What I see evinced in the grocery store is the division between soymilk as an ordinary staple to Asians, and as a healthier alternative to milk to non-Asians, hence the packaging and advertisements for the Western brands (Asian brands are marketed to Asians differently, in that other aspects of the beverage are emphasised). Isn’t it interesting, though, that a food product is marketed in two distinct ways for two different consumer types? Maybe this is because where I live is ethnically diverse, and people tend to be quite familiar with other ethnic cultures and cuisines, so I wonder if others have noticed similar situations where one food has two consumer images.

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