The Futurist: Becoming a global brand with local tastes

The challenge for many brands is finding the sweet spot (pun intended) between maintaining global standards of quality and presentation, while still retaining the creative flexibility to adapt to local preferences.

This is true for everything – from internet banking products to ice-cream. In the next era of marketing, finding this balance will be especially crucial for many global brands. For some products, the goal may be to educate the consumer and the world into wanting and expecting the same product – so the very best smartphones will look the same in India as they do in Iceland.

But when it comes to food – every home has a preference.

Häagen-Dazs is a household name, but for many of us it is also something which is an indulgent pleasure. It is delicious and special – and therefore deeply tied to our consumers’ tastes. What’s the favourite Häagen-Dazs scoop?

Our most popular “flavour” changes from segment to segment. As Häagen-Dazs has transformed from a simple ice-cream delivery business in New York’s Bronx neighbourhood to a global brand – we’ve had to work with dozens of distinct local markets through introducing new flavours and innovative ways of connecting the product with the consumer through our wide range of flavours.

When we started in 1961, there were only three flavours – chocolate, vanilla and coffee. From our ice cream hot-pot in China to the ever-popular ice-cream mooncakes we craft for the Mid- Autumn Festival, we cater to local palates.

Green Tea ice-cream, for example, which in US and European markets is still a niche product, is consistently among our most popular flavours in Asian markets. As such, palates matter. In Singapore and Malaysia, on account of the climate, there’s always been strong demand for lighter flavours and refreshing sorbets and our local product mix reflects this. As such, this year we’ve introduced flavours in the region that suit both the climate and our regional consumer’s appreciation of subtle floral notes and again the response was terrific.

However, while we are committed to creating new flavours, our diverse consumers the core value remains quality. Closer to home, our moon cake collection captures our efforts at localisation while maintaining standards of taste and quality.

First launched in 1997, our ice-cream mooncakes recreate the traditional lotus paste pastry and preserved egg yolk confection beloved in China for centuries with our very own premium ice-cream, Belgian chocolate “pastry” and Mango sorbet “yolk”.

While all our ice-cream is produced in the US and France, the mooncakes are assembledlocally using the skill of dedicated craftsmen who insert the sorbet yolk and apply the chocolate pastry. This fusion of ice-cream with an ancient tradition and a deeply local delicacy has been an enormous success and grows in popularity across the region. We attribute the success to taking the time to understand the culture and matching our product to an appropriate tradition – a tradition that hinges on quality, generosity and sweet treats.

This year we introduced our first collection of snow-skin (glutinous rice paste) wrapped icecream mooncakes in Singapore and Malaysia and once again the demand was tremendous. It is innovations such as this that allow an American brand, produced in France, to serve as a real nexus between global and local.

We have found success in catering to the local palate without compromising on quality. This is heartening and the key to our future growth because the future of marketing in food can no longer be one size fits all.

The writer is Ethan Lim, marketing director, SEA of General Mills. To read more check out the print version of The Futurist.