How Hong Kong brands can leverage the foodie revolution

Hong Kong’s food and beverage scene is very diverse – from local restaurant meals to food deliveries to fine dining. Yet, consumers have become more demanding. With higher consumer expectations, how can brands shift to cash in on the Hong Kong foodie scene?

Dine out

Hong Kong is known as a food paradise with tuck shops, restaurants, cafes, coffee shops and bars on every corner, offering varied cuisines from Chinese, Japanese, Taiwanese, Thai, French, Spanish, Italian, to well … you name it. Hongkongers are spoilt for choice when it comes to dining out. Businesses strive to stay on top of their game in the competitive food and beverage (F&B) industry.

According to a Nielsen report (December 2017), one-third of Hong Kong respondents said they dined out more frequently compared with a year ago, while over half said they spent more money eating out. About 40% of the respondents thought the cost was worth dining in at high-end restaurants.

Anita Wong, head of consumer insights at Nielsen, points out there are two groups of people who pursue premium dining out experiences – middle-aged sophisticated foodies who look for an experience and high-quality food; and young explorers who are interested in exploring new restaurants and new foods.  The top three priorities for foodies are the geographic location of the restaurants, taste of food and the dining environment.

She sees the trends of “shareable” dining experiences and “camera eats first” continuing, as people desire to share their experience with friends and family, especially via social media.

“Restaurants not only need to feed the customer well, they also need to create an emotional connection with the diners. It is no longer just about the presentation of the food, but the fun, exploratory and shareable experience to engage with diners.”

She adds that hospitality businesses are undertaking to provide unique dining experiences or unique ingredients to outdo competitors.

Dine high

As Hong Kong consumers have become more demanding, luxury dining has come into play. Marriott International is one example from Hong Kong’s hotel chains that has placed a greater focus of its branding and marketing strategies onto food and beverages.

“Food and beverage marketing is something you work on all the time in hotels. It is very competitive. It is a major part of our brand’s revenue,” says Bruce Ryde, vice-president of luxury brands and brand marketing at Marriott International.

The hotel group’s food and beverages aim to make Marriott a favourite destination where locals eat, meet and drink. Its strategy revolves around three main focuses: go local, artisan and F&B marketing.

Petr Raba, vice-president of food and beverage operations for Asia Pacific at Marriott International, says: “This will be achieved by having locally relevant food and beverage experiences with a clear focus and point of view, attracting and developing the best artisans in the industry as well as ensuring that all F&B venues have a unique point of view in design, guest experience and cuisine.”

Lauren Bonds, director of food and beverage marketing at Marriott International, adds that more than 25 food and beverage marketing campaigns were launched across Asia-Pacific last year, with the aim to promote its portfolio of restaurants and bars. Meanwhile, the group will also begin making efforts to market unique concepts that resonate locally.

Ryde sees there is a stronger F&B dining culture in Asia-Pacific compared with the US. “The biggest challenge is making sure that Hong Kong residents will want to go to the restaurant in one of our hotels in Hong Kong,” he says.

“Hong Kong is such a great restaurant city. There are a number of companies in Hong Kong that own multiple restaurants. There are a number of restaurants that do excellent concepts. The competition for the Hong Kong diners’ dollar is intense."

"So you have to create experiences that are either differentiated or as we are doing with the Ritz-Carlton they create an experience like no other, at a level that they are exclusive, desired and celebratory.”

Last year, the Ritz-Carlton, a luxury hotel under Marriott International, launched the Stellar Dining Series, where Michelin-star chefs, chocolatiers, mixologists and patissiers served exclusive fine dining creations across four Asia Pacific destinations: Singapore, Osaka, Hong Kong and Beijing.

Marriott International has nine Michelin-star chefs in several restaurants across Asia-Pacific. Ryde says the campaign leverages the advantage of having in-house Michelin-star chefs. “We are so focused on delivering what the most demanding diners would appreciate at the Ritz-Carlton. There is no measurement of dining experiences that can compete with Michelin.”

The chefs were able to showcase their own culinary skill sets. They also worked together to create menus that were interplayed with different elements to celebrate the varied cultures of each city.

“One of the trends that we have noticed in F&B is the change of what consumers look for when they are dining – they want authentic experiences that reflect the culture represented in the dish itself. Although they do have a flair for exciting F&B fads, the most noticeable trend is they are ‘going local’ – enjoying food that is the essence of its culture,” Raba says.

“Although consumers appreciate innovation and interesting concepts, they seem to be steering themselves away from food and beverage concepts that may seem abstract and going back to foods they are comfortable with.” The campaign not only served guests lunch, afternoon tea and dinner, it also included cocktails and chocolate master classes. Ryde says it aims to create experiences for customers in the hotel.

“People want transformative experiences. They don’t want to just go in and order the most expensive thing on the menu."

“When you look at the menu, you learn about the matching of the wine, and you learn about the ingredients of the desserts and how they have been put together. When they go away they have learned, transformed and developed through the experiences they’ve had in the restaurants,” he says.

He further explains the overall brand is about creating indelible memories. “Imagine when you are having dinner at Tosca, here at the top of the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong, with that view, and amazing Italian food.” It was one of the first things he did when he moved to Hong Kong, which became one of his indelible memories.

While activating fine dining experiences, the hotel has been selling tables through its loyalty programme, which is one of the key strategies for the hotel group. “Loyalty members are critical for Ritz-Carlton as much as they are for Marriott itself as an organisation,” he says.

“So a lot of it has been marketed through the loyalty programme. We are using this opportunity to drive new loyalty members as well. Our key strategy for Marriott is to drive membership and celebrate the experience you can have within Marriott as a loyalty customer.”

In addition to keeping up with the trends, the Stellar Dining Series was also a digital marketing campaign. The hotel launched a pre-event teaser video, leveraging social media with key opinion leaders to amplify buzz in the city.

Dine more

There is more to consider than just taste, however. According to the same Nielsen report (December 2017), people who are health conscious are the least attracted to fine dining. Food and health are undeniably connected. Wong sees an overlooked opportunity for restaurants to recruit these customers. “In Hong Kong, eating out is often considered as an unhealthy diet. Being able to convert eating out into a healthy diet is a big opportunity for fine dining,” she says.

Green diets are one of the growing food trends. People are opting for healthier diets. How about adding a green and healthy perspective to the menu?

Wong explains that while many restaurants provide vegan dishes along with other protein dishes, for fear of excluding diners, they never position themselves as vegetarian restaurants. “I think it is a matter of how you reposition yourself and realign your menu, so that your customers may know you are a ‘vegetarian-friendly’ restaurant.”

The Nielsen report also shows that Hongkongers eat out for eight meals per week on average. That’s not even including the rising use of food delivery services. Consumers will eat out for practical and basic needs on weekdays when fast-food chains and quick-service restaurants meet their needs, while they desire an experiential dining experience over the weekend, when they care more about quality cuisine and ambience.

Wong suggests high-end F&B marketers may consider how to leverage CRM programmes to drive the weekday traffic of loyalty customers, such as promotions related to celebrating with friends and family, and big group discounts.

She also points out the importance of launching cashless payments. The consumer journey starts when hungry consumers make their way to the restaurant and ends when they pay the bill for their meal. Why not make that last moment more convenient for them?

“It is really about making sure your dining experiences are keeping up with the trends, so that you are not creating menus and items on them that are dated. Whether it is sustainable produce, a vegetarian menu, quality of the products, it is wherever you want to focus your food and beverage strategy, but be focused,” Ryde says.

This article was produced for the February issue of Marketing Magazine. For more features, and other magazine-exclusive content from this and upcoming issues, you can subscribe to receive your print copy here or can read our digital version in its entirety here.