Chocolate is universally loved, but taking it to new markets requires deep local insights. For Hershey, that means its chocolate in China is less sweet, smoother and positioned to be a more premium product than in the U.S.
Jane Xu, Hershey's VP-general manager for Greater China, has overseen the fast growth of Kisses and Hershey bars since taking the helm in 2008, while keeping an objective eye on local tastes and habits.
"We are very disciplined in research," she said. "It's really not about personal judgments, it's about what the consumer tells us, what they want and what are the opportunities for us."
The strategy is paying off: China is set to become the U.S. chocolate giant's second-largest market within five years.
This year is an important one for Hershey in China, as the company introduces three new brands. Kisses Deluxe are extra-large Kisses wrapped in gold foil with creamy chocolate filling and a hazelnut. They were created specifically for China, where gifting makes up a significant portion of chocolate sales.
Reese's Peanut Butter Cups will initially enter the market in Shanghai, which boasts a high concentration of the important "office lady" demographic.
And there's Lancaster, a milky candy that is the first new Hershey brand to launch outside of its U.S. home market. It will be made in China with imported milk. Milky candy makes up 30% of China's sweets and refreshments category, with a very high growth rate and few players in the high-end segment.
"We think it's a great opportunity for Hershey to enter that segment," Ms. Xu said.
The company also opened an Asia Innovation Center in Shanghai this year, to better develop locally relevant products.
"Jane has a unique ability and capability in managing a fast-growing business and organization," said Peter Smit, Hershey president for Asia, Europe, Middle East and Africa. "There are many moving parts. ... Jane has a unique grasp in mastering this complexity."
Ms. Xu, 44, credits her time as a McKinsey management consultant for her strategic outlook. She also previously founded a Chinese e-commerce company and said she applies that entrepreneurial spirit to her current role "to really build Hershey from a startup stage to a No. 3 player as we can see today."