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Live Streaming in China – Hot Trend – Unique Opportunities Part 1

22nd February 2021

Kieran Fitzgerald, Market Specialist China, Bord Bia - The Irish Food Board

Live streaming is the hottest trend of the Chinese e-commerce world right now, although it has been around for a number of years and is currently in its third phase. According to the South China Morning Post China Internet Report 2020, live streaming “is now a required marketing channel across industries, new and old”.

Over 560,000,000 netizens (more than half of all of China’s netizens) are now considered live stream users with the value of livestreaming estimated by to be between €100 and €124 billion (Forbes, Chozan). Products featured on live streams are primarily cosmetic products, fashion and food. The total of China’s e-commerce, according to Forbes, is projected to be $1 trillion dollars in 2020.

This Food Alert series will explain what live streaming is, how the Covid-19 pandemic has increased its popularity in China and what the opportunities for Irish food and drink exporters are.

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What is live streaming?

Livestreaming is the process by which a person broadcasts themselves live over the internet and viewers tune in to watch. In China live streamers are often, or have become, influencers / KOLs (key opinion leaders) with (often) millions of followers who tune into their live broadcasts where viewers can generally purchase the products being promoted via an imbedded link. Xiao Mi, a trained chef and KOL, is one live streamer that we have worked with in Bord Bia Shanghai who has over 10 million online followers.  

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iiMedia Research, as reported by Chozan, show that livestreaming grew by over 400% between 2018 and 2020. According to China’s Ministry of Commerce, there were more than 4 million e-commerce live broadcasts hosted in the first quarter of 2020 alone.

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Live streaming & Covid-19

China experienced a strict lockdown during February and March 2020, where only one member of a household could leave to purchase food every 2-3 days, depending on their location. Covid-19 has accelerated the live streaming trend due to the preference (or necessity) to shop online rather than in brick and mortar retail outlets. In 2020, due to Covid-19, 53% of Chinese adults shopped more via livestreaming.

Necessity is the mother of invention and live streaming came to the rescue of many producers around China when Covid-19 disrupted supply chains and routes to market. Farmers risked seeing their entire harvests going to waste before live streaming came to the rescue.

A case study in the Bord Bia Future Proofing Toolkit highlights the example of the Alibaba Rural Support Programme which was established in February 2020, just after the start of China’s lockdown. Alibaba opened its Taobao Live platform to farmers for free. Within the first three days of live streaming, farmers sold 15,000 tonnes of produce directly to consumers, sustaining livelihoods and preventing food waste.

Douyin (TikTok) also helped farmers sell over €40m worth of produce during the Covid-19 lockdown according to China Skinny.

Bord Bia livestream

Bord Bia has worked with a number of live streamers over the last few years and has supported clients’ live stream promotions. In November 2020, Bord Bia worked with a well-known foodie KOL and live streamer, XiaoMi, who has over 10m online followers, to promote Irish beef in China. The three day event was a part of Bord Bia’s “Chefs’ Masters Series”, a series of events launched in 2019 that engages high profile Chinese chefs to create new recipes using Irish ingredients in regional Chinese cuisines. The three day live streaming event attracted over 25m viewers and generated 25,000 comments, which demonstrates how engaged the followers were. The main content of the live stream was three high profile chefs cooking with Irish beef and Xiao Mi interacting with them as they did so. Xiao Mi previously travelled to Ireland with Bord Bia in June 2019 as part of the first instalment of the Chefs’ Masters Series, where he saw Ireland’s farm-to-fork, sustainability and high quality production and processing standards first-hand. This first-hand experience allowed him to communicate the USPs of Irish beef in his own words to his followers, increasing his credibility even further.

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Next week, part 2 of this Food Alert will address how protective health management is impacting online food purchases as well as live streaming opportunities and watch outs for Irish food and drink exporters.