PMA's annual Chinese event gains local traction -

PMA's annual Chinese event gains local traction

Online trading platforms, brand development and market access will be among the key topics to be discussed at the Produce Marketing Association's (PMA) Fresh Connections: China event this week in Shanghai.

Shanghai will again set the scene for the third PMA Fresh Connections: China event.

Shanghai will again set the scene for the third PMA Fresh Connections: China event.

Now in its third year, the forum has become an industry staple for the movers and shakers of this booming yet sometimes complicated produce import market.

PMA vice president of global business development Richard Owen told the event had traditionally been tailored to international companies looking to get ahead in China, but this year there was the added bonus of increased interest from the Chinese produce sector.

"What we are seeing is growth from the Chinese audience that is attending. More and more Chinese companies are seeing value in attending and are wanting to connect to the international buyers," he said, adding that as of March 20 there were 114 representatives from 70 companies registered from local and overseas entities. The PMA expects final attendance to approach 150.

"Because of market access approvals, we've had a lot of interest in imported fruits into China so we’ve got an entire session around how to successfully build your brand for fresh produce in China," Owen said, highlighting one particular panel that will include New Zealand kiwifruit marketer Zespri, U.S. berry multinational Driscoll's and Chinese chain store Pagoda.

Similar to branding, another session with two international packaging experts will provide a more direct approach on how to better reach consumers.

"What the session will do is to highlight what some of the best ideas are from around the world in how you reach the customers with packaging," Owen said, adding it was also a chance for Chinese producers as well as importers to differentiate themselves through packaging.

"To differentiate your product or to make the shelf life of your product to go even further can make a big difference."

Packaging expert and columnist Lisa Cork will discuss the ways produce exporters can move beyond marketing commodities at low prices through the effective use of packaging.

"Whether attendees are growers, shippers, wholesalers, retailers or service providers, they will gain important insights to help them make their packaging work harder," Cork said.

In the same part of the program will be Jacques Coetzee of Dutch firm NNZ, who said he hoped his participation in PMA Fresh Connections: China would help forge contacts in the market to help Chinese companies that require the benefit of the company's packaging.

"China is a very interesting new market for NNZ. We have found that consumers, producers and retailers in most markets have the same basic requirements for fresh produce packaging," Coetzee said.

"Local customs, habits and trends do have an impact on the appearance of packaging, but the basic functions are the same."

The emergence of e-commerce was a hot issue at last year's event with industry icon invited to give a talk on the segment's changing dynamics. The educational session will also include this issue in 2015, but with some fresh faces.

"The reason we want to have this session again is that the market just keep growing," Owen said.

"It's growing like crazy and you have some traditional companies like Costco recently entering China. They don't even have any physical stores - They are selling on, owned by the Alibaba Group, through their online platform. That's one example of how it's been attracting attention from major international retailers."

Local companies like yummy 77 and, which have respectively received investment from Amazon and Alibaba, will be describing how their platforms work as part of the e-commerce panel.

Owen also noted a session presented by China Entry & Exit Inspection and Quarantine Association chairman Feng Chunguang would shed light on the government regulation of imported fruits.

"I think if you are a major international company and you are wanting to export products into this region, then you are going to want to have the latest information from the quarantine officials on how the process will work, which products are in the pipeline to be approved, and what the timeframe might be."

While China may have its share of produce industry events, Owen said PMA Fresh Connections: China stood out as the PMA was a membership-based organization.

"The goal of all our Fresh Connections events globally, including in the United States is to put buyers and sellers together. What PMA wants to do out of this particular event is to make sure the value to our members is as strong as possible.

"As a membership-based organization, we offer an opportunity to think about the year-round value that we bring from being present in China.

"We have a representative there so our members that have on-going questions or need on-going information about the Chinese market, we have resources to provide that."