Dalian Group

CEOs are bullish on China's new consumer

June 6, 2013: 6:50 AM ET

Mass-market tastes are changing at a rapid clip.

By Brian Dumaine, senior editor-at-large

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FORTUNE -- At today's town hall meeting at Fortune's Global Forum in Chengdu, China, leaders of some of the world's largest corporations engaged in a lively debate over the shape of China's changing culture. Mass-market tastes -- especially among China's younger generation -- are changing fast as urbanization, technology, and travel remake consumer experiences and demands. The panelists discussed what lies ahead and how business needs to adapt. Here are the highlights:

On the growth of China's consumer market: Wang Jianlin, the Chairman of the real estate giant Dalian Group, was extremely upbeat about the rise of the Chinese consumer. Many people, he said, believe that China has problems and its growth will slow, but he added: "They are wrong." He pointed out that the nation was still urbanizing, pension reform is coming, and the Chinese moving into the city "will need homes, jobs, and they will go to movies and restaurants. Therefore China over the next 10 years will grow at 8% or more." As one point of evidence, he pointed out that a few years ago a lot of doubters said the bullet trains would be a big failure, but today "the high speed trains are so crowded."

MORE: Big in China: Jumbo shrimp pizza and green tea Oreos

On reaching the Chinese consumer: Robert Iger, the Chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Company (DIS) said that any company wishing to crack the China market has to really understand what the Chinese want. "There is a misconception," he said, "that because technology has created access to world markets that there is one world culture. That's absolutely not the case. Thinking that can trip up a company." He said that when he brings Disney to China, "it has to feel like China's Disney." Before starting construction on Shanghai Disneyland, Iger said that Disney listened to a lot of diverse voices in China to find out what the consumers really wanted. The panels all agreed that is was especially important to listen to what China's youth wanted because they are the opinion-makers who will drive sales. If they like a product, they will tell their friends and their parents.

On targeting Chinese tourists: While the Chinese are buying luxury goods, one of the most promising markets, said Angela Ahrendts, the CEO of the luxury clothing group the Burberry Group  (BURBY), are those traveling abroad to shop. "In 2013, 100 million Chinese will travel outside their country, and they will spend 10 times more than they spend in China." To capitalize on this trend, Ahrendts has outfitted Burberry shops in strategic markets with Mandarin-speaking sales clerks.

Follow #FortuneGlobal for all updates from this week's event.

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