New 'made-in-China' begins with the rice cooker
MAKERS of home appliances in China are tapping on technology to improve their products as they seek to win back quality-conscious Chinese consumers who go on overseas shopping sprees.
The campaign to make new, improved made-in-China products has started with the electric rice cooker.
Big players such as Midea, Gree Electric Appliances and consumer electronics company Xiaomi launched high-end induction heating or IH rice cookers recently.
They claimed their products are on a par with those of their Japanese counterparts.
Yet, Chinese tourists flew several thousand kilometres to buy made-in-Japan electric toilet seats and rice cookers during the Chinese New Year holiday in February.
Lei Jun, chief executive of Xiaomi, is not surprised. The quality of many products made in China fails to meet the elevated expectations of Chinese consumers, who now have greater spending power, he said.
"At first, I thought Chinese people had blind faith in the quality of foreign products. But later, I discovered after research that Japanese makers did have a technological edge," he noted in a speech during the annual sessions of the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in Beijing in March.
"While Chinese models could cook rice thoroughly, Japanese models could cook rice beautifully, making the rice dance."
According to the Ministry of Commerce, Chinese tourists spent about 1.2 trillion yuan (S$250 billion) overseas last year.
Chinese consumer demands have increased from functional products to items with great user experience, Mr Lei said.
"To keep consumers home (in China), Chinese manufacturers need to refine the design and quality of their products to perfection with the spirit of craftsmanship and at the same time increase efficiency with Internet technologies to offer great buys," he said.
"And such products are what I call 'new made-in-China products'."
The Beijing-based Xiaomi, best known for its affordable, feature-rich smartphones, has been exploring the smart home appliances sector for two years.
It launched a new brand, Mijia, for the sector last Tuesday.
Its first product is a smartphone-controlled IH pressure cooker for rice. Sales of the Mijia rice cooker began earlier this week.
Priced at 999 yuan, it aims to beat most Japanese IH rice cookers that are sold for 3,000 to 5,000 yuan.
The cooker is also a "smart" device that can cook rice according to the grain's brand, type and origin. All users need to do is scan the barcode on the rice bag with an app.
Dong Mingzhu, president of Gree Electric Appliances, a leading air-conditioner manufacturer in Zhuhai, Guangdong province, is also confident her company's newly released IH rice cooker can rival or even surpass the quality of Japanese high-end products.
Gree conducted a blind taste test at its rice cooker's launch on March 8, inviting about 100 guests to compare rice made in its cooker with that cooked using foreign appliances. Gree's cooker won the most votes.
"With so many manufacturers in China, there's no excuse for not making a good rice cooker," said Ms Dong.
"We want to rebuild Chinese consumers' confidence in made-in-China products, with the rice cooker as the catalyst."
THE CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK