By Bill Poovey
Published Feb. 29, 2016
An enterprise headed by Greenville entrepreneur Vivian Wong is ready to market a new BabyBlossom product line in China, a country that has been dealing with infant formula and milk contamination scares. About two years of planning have gone into launching the brand that includes nontoxic, baby-safe formula, shampoo, laundry detergent and surface cleaners, and BabyBlossom CEO Matthew Van Patton said the first products could be on shelves in China within a few months.
Wong, who is active in promoting global trade and economic development efforts, said in an email that several factors led her to start the business.
“We have the right connections on manufacturing side and sales channels,” said Wong, who was born in Hong Kong and staunchly identifies herself as an American businesswoman. Wong also said in an email that there is a “demand and supply” factor involved. She said there will also be donations to orphanages in China and to global charities.
BabyBlossom CEO Matthew Van Patton shows off products that will be sold in China (Photo by Bill Poovey)
Van Patton said three other Greenville firms — Rooted, a marketing and design firm; the Carolina Zoom television and audio production company; and Smoak Public Relations — have had roles in the brand launch.
“From the development of the brand standpoint, what I think I’m really most proud of with our story and with its genesis and evolution has been the platform has really been developed and refined by local talent,” Van Patton said in an interview. “It has all been done here in Greenville.”
Van Patton said the upfront investment totals more than $1 million.
BabyBlossom is part of Quality of Life Brands, a company founded by Wong. Van Patton said planning for the China venture started “around the nutritional side with the infant formula.”
China has adopted new food safety standards, including drastic reductions in foreign infant formula brands and infant formula contamination scares, one in 2008 that killed several babies and made tens of thousands of others ill. China’s recent relaxation of the country’s one-child policy is also a factor, according to a BabyBlossom statement.
Van Patton said Wong is a grandmother who “could easily put herself in the position of any mother, any grandmother, in the situation where you are buying products and you are wondering, ‘Am I putting something in my child’s bottle that is going to bring them harm?’ ” He said Wong based the decision on “dialogue with some of her contacts in China, and then realizing she had contacts here that could actually produce a product, she started knitting it together.”
He said consumers in the United States “walk into Publix or Bi-Lo, or wherever we are buying, and we simply pick it up and we don’t think twice about the quality or the safety of it, really.”
In January, Wong and the product team “introduced their nutrition, personal care and home care product lines to hundreds of vendors and distributors at the Hong Kong Baby Products Fair,” a company statement said. “From infant formula and shampoo to laundry detergent, the response was tremendous.”
The brand launch includes baby formula, diaper rash cream, foaming hand sanitizer, baby lotion, shampoo and body wash, all-purpose surface cleaner, and “free and clear laundry detergent,” with all of those manufactured in North Carolina, Vermont and Canada.
Van Patton said the Greenville firm has five employees and the team includes as many as 15 people.
“In China, upfront we are dealing with distributors and retailers. That is the natural path,” Van Patton said. “That’s the most natural pathway. That’s not to say these retailers couldn’t be e-commerce retailers. Some of them in our client book are quite large and would very easily take those products and could move through them very quickly … We also are being very selective about who we do business with. Who you sell to first dictates who you get to sell to second. As we’ve all reminded ourselves, the reason we have a pronounced opportunity in this market for these products and this product online is because the market destabilized, and we need to make sure those entities we do business with are going to work with us in partnership to protect the integrity of the brand.”
He said “pathways into the Chinese market are not readily straightforward.” He added the personal relationship “is almost contractual” and that it is Wong’s experience and relationships that are key.
“Her ability to manage and mitigate those marketplace dynamics, which are very foreign to us, really makes it very beneficial,” Van Patton said. “There are some dynamics in that marketplace that are beginning to open up China, I would say broadly to a much bigger market, on a world basis than what they have been.” He said “cross border e-commerce” has become an option that helps mitigate restrictions on online retail activity., such as requiring American and other foreign companies to have a 50% Chinese partner.
Van Patton said the cross border e-commerce model “also helps you mitigate certain expenses like your value-added tax, which gets put on top of the cost. It’s a possibility for us. We don’t fully have an engagement strategy for it. We can do it ourselves if we want to. But doing that requires a lot more business infrastructure. Or we can partner with a company who already has an existing e-commerce platform, which seems much more logical … because you are selling to a retailer who has already built up a certain amount of traffic.”
Van Patton said the brand will eventually be marketed in other countries but “we’ve got to move methodically into the marketplace to make sure we are growing at a pace that we can keep up with.” He said Wong “wants to make very certain that we produce a product that can get on the shelf and the consumer can afford it. That’s a challenge but we feel very confident in our ability to do it and still produce what would be considered a boutique or a premium-brand product in their eyes.”
Reach Bill Poovey at 864-235-5677, ext. 104.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct a misspelling of Matthew Van Patton’s name.