Many urban houseworkers in China never expected to one day emulate the housewives of the 1980s to grow vegetables at home. Apparently, even youngsters have divulged their plans to build balcony gardens amid the fierce COVID-19 lockdown in recent months. Food insecurity has an outsized impact on encouraging the younger generation to think of new ways of doing things that adhere to their modern lifestyles.
A strong overshoot of the COVID-19 lockdown
The media catnip of balcony gardens appears to be lucrative for workers in China during the sensitive period of recent times. What drives them to immerse themselves in this semi-farming lifestyle is because of the shortage of food supply and delivery difficulties when China imposed lockdowns in several major cities, such as the financial center and Chinese trade from Shanghai.
Additionally, China’s historic urban migration is further aggravating the food supply crisis, with young people constantly moving to big cities for better job opportunities and better living conditions. MyCOS Blue Book of Employment 2021 reported that out of 10 recent college graduates, 6 of them would choose their first workplace in first-tier cities including Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and others. 68% of them migrated from other parts of the country, increasing the urban population over the past decade from around 670 million to 902 million.
On March 28, 2022, China rolled out its largest COVID-19 lockdown in Shanghai which confines around 26 million people to their homes to fight the worst virus outbreak in two years. The enforcement of the lockdown was extended indefinitely on April 1, leaving residents limited in their food supply and daily activities. As reported on April 10, there have been more than 26,000 new daily infections, causing an impending disruption to food and delivery infrastructure.
Although food retailers, such as Metro AG in Shanghai, quickly launched online food ordering to balance the overwhelming demand, the whole delivery and logistics process takes considerable time to cover all residents at once. . To overcome this unprecedented food shortage, Shanghai city workers have stepped up their own efforts to expand the grip of balcony gardens. A growing chorus of community households have started researching smart ways to plant vegetables at home.
Soilless Planters and Vegetable Seeds Drive Online Retail Market
As the lockdown has a ripple effect limiting daily activities, Alibaba-owned China’s largest e-commerce marketplace, Amazon-like Taobao, has seen a surge in sales in planter product categories indoor plant with smart hydroponic system and vegetable seeds. The planter resembles a life-size greenhouse and is equipped with scientific irrigation and plant lighting functions to take an easy hands-on approach to growing vegetables.
Deviated from traditional clay planters, this new indoor planter is designed for above-ground procedures through hydroponics or substrate. Through the use of LED lighting and water circulation systems, this type of planter can easily replicate the natural environment of sunlight, air, water and nutrients needed to generate photosynthesis and supplement plant growth. Some indoor planters are even equipped with remote control functions connected to WIFI and manage to regularly replenish the vegetables thanks to the nutrient sprinkler and the control of the time of exposure to light if the owner is absent.
As Taobao reported this year, the smart indoor planter achieved 200% year-on-year sales growth. Meanwhile, in the first quarter of 2022, revenue of all kinds of vegetable seeds on Taobao and Tmall saw a soaring performance on a yearly basis, with the number of vegetable seed buyers doubling for the three consecutive years. Demographically, the main consumer groups are concentrated in Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou and other first- and second-tier cities.
A leading merchant selling indoor planters in Taobao, Tianjin Xiaojing’s flagship store, also doubled sales volume in March from the same period last year. Prior to this viral trend, the store revealed that its core business mainly focused on house plants and flowerpot plants while amassing over 200,000 followers. In March, they launched a large indoor smart vegetable planter with a price ranging from CNY 1199 to CNY 1799 and achieved monthly sales of nearly 40 units.
Store owner Lin Xiaoqin said the sales performance of this product was much better than expected as the company prepared for the launch of large smart indoor planters last year. In addition, the store also offers a mini indoor hydroponic planter at a lower price of around CNY 300, and this model has achieved more than 200 units of monthly sales volume from orders in Guangdong, Beijing and Shanghai.
Besides hydroponic indoor planters, vegetable seed buyers in China are also turning their balconies into trendy gardens during the new outbreaks of COVID-19. According to Taobao’s balcony planting report, Gen Z is becoming the main consumer group to grow their own vegetables at home. Vegetable seeds like coriander, watermelon, lettuce, green onion and tomato were among the top 10 in terms of overall seed sales on Taobao and Tmall platforms.
From vegetable seeds to hydroponic planters, Gen Z and municipal workers in China are turning their balconies or homes into lush gardens, even with a small patio space during the COVID-19 lockdown. Amid ongoing food insecurity and stress, Chinese e-commerce giants like Taobao and Tmall have quickly introduced similar strategies selling tools to help set up balcony gardens, including self-contained hydroponic planters. -watering and self-fertilizing. This new trend in e-commerce reflects another product with high growth potential in the Chinese market driven by the younger generation.