The China market offers compelling opportunities and growth potential for fragrance brands, with only 2.5 percent of the country’s massive 1.4 billion-strong population using personal fragrances. By way of comparison, in France, where the use of personal fragrances is deeply ingrained in the culture, 42 percent use scents on a daily basis.
Long dominated by top-selling global fragrances like Chanel N°5 and Dior J’Adore, China’s personal fragrance market is undergoing a rapid shift towards lesser-known and niche brands, driven by an evolution in consumer tastes and a greater willingness to experiment. Meanwhile, the country is seeing a flood of domestic fragrance brands enter the space, intensifying competition for global entrants and offering consumers new options that resonate culturally.
In Jing Daily’s latest Insight Report, we turn to China’s fast-moving fragrance market, delving into how consumer habits are changing and what trending foreign and domestic brands are doing to tap growing demand. Below, Jing Daily highlights four key findings in the report. For more, be sure to download the report here.
1. China has been a boon for niche fragrance brands in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
China’s cosmetics market bounced back relatively quickly after declines in the first quarter of 2020, returning to positive growth by April of that year. This has made China a much-needed bright spot for the global niche fragrance sector, which had already seen interest from Chinese consumers pre-pandemic. Although some niche brands saw their market expansion plans delayed in the first half of 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic, many have built new momentum over the past year, with Estée Lauder-owned Kilian and Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle examples of brands that have opened new boutiques and ramped up marketing efforts.
2. Chinese consumers don’t care whether a niche fragrance is tied to a major luxury brand or is part of a larger beauty group.
As long as they find a point of resonance — whether that is bottle design, smell, or brand story — Chinese consumers have proven themselves extremely willing to buy a niche fragrance. This rising interest is closely linked to a larger “niche” trend that has penetrated the fashion and beauty industries, one that has seen millennial and Gen Z consumers seek out products that can serve as vehicles of self-expression. And as individuals can easily become identified with their scents, fragrance has emerged as a key signifier that can be used to stand out from the crowd.
3. Niche fragrance brands can expect digital-savvy young consumers to have some degree of familiarity with their offerings, even before they begin marketing to China.
High-spending Chinese consumers may have access to VPNs (virtual private networks) to access global social media platforms such as Instagram, or may come across re-published posts from overseas on Xiaohongshu. This means inspiration and brand awareness can come from anywhere, rather than Chinese media sources alone. Chinese consumers are also exposed to a greater number of niche fragrance brands via entertainment tabloids, which regularly report on the sophisticated preferences of top celebrities such as the iconic singer Faye Wong (Diptyque), Hong Kong pop star Shawn Yue (Le Labo) and popular actress Yang Mi (Serge Lutens).
4. Global fragrance brands face increasingly stiff competition in China from domestic upstarts.
Just as C-beauty brands like Perfect Diary and Florasis have become all the rage among young consumers thanks to creative product design, localized marketing strategies, and affordable prices, Chinese fragrance producers are making similar efforts to appeal to the new generation of shoppers through innovative scents that play on cultural touchpoints and generational nostalgia. The domestic sector is getting a boost from major global players such as Switzerland-based Givaudan, which added a third production facility in China in 2020. In June 2021, Givaudan announced an industry-first partnership with Tmall to launch the “T-Lab source innovation laboratory” aimed at dramatically speeding up the fragrance development process to cater to the tastes of Chinese consumers.