Evidence of China's economic difficulties and the ensuing stock market rout have sent shockwaves around a financially troubled world that has been banking on China to stimulate demand.
But while sales of luxury goods have slumped, some companies focused on ordinary consumers in China are finding ways to maintain their businesses, selling more washing machines and rice crackers as the economy slows.
Analysts say the headlines belie a vast, complex and competitive consumer market where companies have to fight for sales, whether by offering cheaper, smaller package sizes at the lower end or improving their products and customer service.
Retail sales have been rising at an annualised 10 per cent recently, according to official data, but analysts are sceptical about the figures and believe that even in the best case they conceal divergences between companies.
"Consumer demand has always been there in China and in the past it was easy for companies to grab it," says Spencer Leung, a consumer industry analyst at UBS in Hong Kong. "But things have slowed and only those who can offer differentiated goods can capture demand."
He says that multinationals focused on the mass market have been particularly good at maintaining performance as annual gross domestic product growth has fallen from 10 per cent in 2010 to 7 per cent in the second quarter this year. Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Nike all reported expanding sales in China in recent updates, while Tim Cook, chief executive of Apple, arrested the slide in his company's shares on Monday after telling a US television show host that he was seeing "strong growth" in China in July and August.
Ben Cavender, an analyst at China Market Research Group in Shanghai, says that while the stock market turbulence has worried some consumers, few are directly exposed given that only 6 percent of households own equities.
上海中国市场研究集团(China Market Research Group)分析师本•卡文德(Ben Cavender)表示，尽管股市动荡让一些消费者感到忧虑，但考虑到只有6%的家庭持有股票，直接暴露于股市下跌行情的人很少。
The economy, beset by the underperforming industrial and property sectors, has sapped consumer confidence, but it has also changed the way people buy.
"People are still spending but they are more careful about how they spend, with more focus on features and functions, after-sales support and how products fit in their life," says Mr Cavender.
Samsonite, the suitcase maker, saw its China sales suffer over the past couple of years but delivered an annualised 28 per cent jump in sales in the first half after it focused on more affordable products.
"Most consumer companies see that consumers in China are becoming smarter, they want to buy goods with better value," says Ramesh Tainwala, Samsonite's chief executive. "That trend was already starting over the last two years and will only continue."
Zhou Yunjie, chief executive of the Hong Kong-listed subsidiary of Haier, China's largest distributor of home appliances, says the company has mitigated the effect of the property slump in third and fourth-tier cities by becoming more nimble.
His division, Haier Electronics, has focused on selling high-tech washing machines to better-off consumers, promoting low-cost water heaters in rural areas and pushing into ecommerce and logistics.
In the first half of the year, sales of air-conditioners and refrigerators dropped but Haier Electronics reported an increase of 4-5 per cent in sales of washing machines and water heaters.
"For white goods suppliers, sales really differ across categories," says Catherine Chan, an analyst at Citigroup in Hong Kong. "Where we see growth, it is by increases in average sales prices, not just higher volumes, as people upgrade to better models."
Other consumer companies have seen similar divergences in their products.
Want Want, which sells snacks and drinks, saw milk sales fall 3 per cent year on year in the first half, while rice crackers sales jumped 10 per cent because of promotional campaigns.
Belle International, China's biggest shoe retailer, closed 167 of its 20,000 shops in the three months to May as sales at its shops dropped 8 per cent year on year. But its sportswear stores increased sales by 12 per cent in the same period, as it capitalised on the fitness trend in China.
Erwin Sanft, the head of China strategy at Macquarie in Hong Kong, says that the best consumer companies have managed to maintain their profits. "When you include the growth of tourism, entertainment and ecommerce, we haven't seen that much of a slowdown in the overall consumer sector."