China's fruit imports grew 59.6% year-on-year in 2011 reaching US$2.5 billion, with Thailand as the number one supplier and Chile, the Philippines, Vietnam and the U.S. rounding off the top five. Countries from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) make up the bulk of tropical fruit exports to the country, while deciduous and stonefruit imports mainly come from Chile and the U.S. At www.freshfruitportal.com we speak with Produce Marketing Association (PMA) China consultant Mabel Zhuang to hear more about what is currently being seen in the Chinese produce market.
The fruit consumption per capita in China was 40kg (88lbs) in 2010, and it is expected to grow to 48kg (106lbs) in 2020 and 53kg (116lbs) in 2030.
What would you say have been the real success stories for the fruit industry in China recently?
The success stories have been apples from the U.S., grapes from U.S., Chile and Peru, citrus from the U.S., kiwifruit from New Zealand, and cherries from Chile and the U.S. There has been good marketing and trade promotion for these.
What do you think will be some categories that will shine in the future, and are there any items that have struggled to grow in the Chinese market?
In general, China has huge demand for high quality fruits, so all kinds of fruit have huge market potential here, especially apples, grapes, cherries, blueberries and citrus fruits. Stonefruit are doing so-so. For fruit that are not native to China such as avocados, without promotion the consumer awareness is low, and so the growth is small.
What sort of market is there for organic produce in China?
The demand for organic produce, mainly vegetables, is growing, so it is important. However, China has a different organic certification and sometimes does not recognize the overseas standards.
Exporters tend to focus on getting their fruit into China before the Chinese New Year. What would you recommend for exporters in terms of how they plan their programs in China to avoid flooding the market?
Chinese New Year is a high season, no doubt about that. I think in general, those exporters shall work together, something like what the Californian table grape industry does with more consumer promotion to raise consumer awareness and recognition.
What has been the response to Chile’s blueberry market access, and do you expect it to grow? By the same token, Argentina also has access. What is the perception of Argentine blueberries?
Chile has received a good response, and yes, it will grow. The volume is small now though with not much direct exporting to China. Argentina's volume is even smaller. The trade is aware of it, but there is no consumer awareness.
Australia has gained access for several fruit products in export to China recently. What is the perception of Australian fruit and how well have they been doing?
The main export item for Australia is citrus right now, but the volume is small. The traders said that the price was to high, though the taste was good. Their season still has a bit of overlap with the U.S. and Chinese seasons.
Australia is also hoping to achieve cherry access in China. Once this happens, what do you think it will mean for the cherry market and Chinese consumers?
Cherries are a big market in China. So far U.S. and Chilean products are the most welcomed. The U.S. has done a lot of promotion and Chile has a good season. For Australia, I think that they still need to make a lot of efforts for market development.
Kiwifruit comes from China originally, but New Zealand pioneered the fruit in the export sphere. What is this supplying country's place in the market?
Zespri has done an excellent job in marketing and branding so they occupy the high-end market. Local kiwifruit is mostly sold in the lower-end market.
What would you say is the biggest difference between the tastes of Chinese consumers and in the U.S. or Europe?
Chinese consumers prefer a sweet taste, so their tolerance for sour and bitter tastes is generally low.
What has been the progress in China in terms of supermarkets and cold storage, and what work still needs to be done on these two things?
Supermarket chains have been well developed, but the cold chain is still underdeveloped. Much of this has something to do with cost.