Lessons in “Think Global, Act Local” from Carrefour in China

I love the phrase, “think global, act local” as a way to sum up an effective global marketing strategy. Even if you are a domestic marketer, just substitute the word “national” for “global” and it still works, especially for brands without big TV budgets.  Below I’ve tried to put together a visual trip through a Shanghai Carrefour to show how I think they are executing well on “think global, act local”.



  1. Carrefour China logoExpand aggressively in key markets – Carrefour is a western (French) retail brand that can be found across European, Latin American, African and Asian markets.  Carrefour’s largest Asian presence by far is in China with over $7 billion (45.3 billion yuan) in sales in China, over 200 stores in 60 cities and a stated goal of 20+ more stores per year.
  2. Retain a global brand essence – Regardless of significant tactical differences across markets, the Carrefour brand essence of “quality selections at unbeatable prices” is maintained across countries and cultures.  In China where trust is a big issue due to frequent food safety concerns they rephrase that essence appropriately with the slogan, “Low in price, high in trust”. Here we see a celebrity endorsement display which can help to establish that trust.

Carrefour Cobranding



1.  A localized real estate strategy – The Carrefour I shopped at was in the basement of an indoor shopping mall.  To US consumers this may seem strange as we are used to seeing supercenters/hypermarkets on stand-alone real estate or as part of an outdoor strip mall, but in Asia this is very common. Due to high real estate prices in large Asian cities like Shanghai, there are many high-rise indoor shopping malls that will have 6-10 floors of stores. These malls draw huge crowds so capturing this foot traffic makes sense, and many supercenters are found in this type of location.


2.  Adapt to local customs and culture – One of the first things I noticed walking into this Carrefour was the ‘busy-ness’ of the appearance of the store.  I don’t just mean the number of shoppers though there were plenty, but rather the plethora of signs, banners, balloons and other eye-catching adornments.  I commented to my local market research expert, Yuanjing Jin from MMR Consulting (Shanghai) Co. Ltd. and she said, “yes it’s very common in China because Chinese consumers like ‘flashy’.  Americans tend to like clean and simple while Chinese like the opposite, they like a show.”  Thus Carrefour has tried to make the environment visually loud and exciting for them.

Carrefour Busy

3.  Adapt to local taste preferences — Roaming the aisles of the store there were certainly plenty of western products in distribution and if you are a well-known US or Euro brand this is likely one of your first stops on the road to distribution in China.  But as we will see Carrefour has also done a great job of adapting to local tastes.

On the western front here we see a box of Nature Valley granola bars that have been imported from the US as evidenced by the nutritional claims sticker on the back.  We also see a Dr. Oetker’s pizza (a German brand that is often found in Asian and Latin markets) that is produced locally with Chinese language packaging. The pizza price is 26 Yuan which is about $4.25 or €3.25.

Carrefour Nature Valley   Dr Oetker Pizza

But easily 2/3 of this huge store is “localized” meaning there are products on the shelves that are more familiar to the Chinese consumer.  Here we see some noodles with a banded strainer package promotion.  This is a typical and effective marketing promotion in countries where consumers may not have the cookware necessary to make certain products.

Carrefour Noodles

In the fruits/veggies section we see local favorites like lychee fruit.

Carrefour Lyche

Meat Snacks are a huge category in China with more dedicated shelf space than in the US where it’s growing strongly, but we don’t see any western brands (yet = opportunity!). There are lots of fun equity characters and single-serve sub-packaging in this category suggesting it is targeted at kids to some degree.

Meat Snacks Ms Piggy    Meat Snacks Duck

Finally we get to the “weird stuff”, at least for us westerners.  Eels, frogs and turtles all in live tanks, along with the usual assortment of live fish.  Because of food safety concerns, it is important to Chinese consumers that seafood is alive.  This is their insurance that the food is fresh, healthy and not potentially harmful.

Carrefour eels Carrefour frogs Carrefour turtles

In summary, I was struck by the great lessons in “think global, act local” that were being exhibited at Carrefour.  If you want to know more about how you can drive growth in your global business by leveraging this strategy, contact me and let’s talk about how WGM might help you.

Williams Food Marketing | Minneapolis, MN, USA | hugh@williamsfoodmarketing.com
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