When the team at Fiera Bolzano in northern Italy made forays into Chinese exhibitions nine years ago with ski resort and mountain trade fair Alpitec, they were met with some resistance by sector experts – manufacturers of ski lifts, snow-making machines, grooming machines and the like.
“Everyone said ‘no, I’m not going to Beijing because they’ll photograph it, they’ll copy it, then it’s on the market’,” says Geraldine Coccagna, exhibition manager for agriculture and mountain at Fiera Bolzano.
“I told people ‘anyone can come to Europe, take a picture and copy your machine’. So it’s a stupid argument,” she adds.
That initial pushback turned out to be unfounded, and those who got in early have benefited over the last decade from a booming industry for China’s growing middle class who want to hit the slopes just as much as their European and North American counterparts.
“If you are faster to be in the right market and you are strong enough, okay maybe some will try to copy you, but if you’re good you will sell enough anyway,” she says.
The same could be said for the apple industry, where Fiera Bolzano is renowned for its industry event Interpoma attracting leaders from across the sector, whether it be in farming equipment, sorting and packing technology, nurseries or the breeders of new varieties.
With one of the highest levels of productivity in the world, South Tyrol is a stark contrast to China, which despite being the world’s top apple producer by volume still has low yields per hectare.
“The Weihai Agricultural Bureau and the Qingdao University, which have been collaborating with some people working in the South Tyrol apple market, have felt the need that also that the Chinese apple agriculture raises its standard to equal European or world markets,” Coccagna says.
The groups then approached Fiera Bolzano requesting help to set up an event in the major apple-growing region of Shandong, in a bit to increase know-how and technology with local Chinese farmers.
The result is the Interpoma China Congress & Exhibition due to take place in Weihai on June 28-30.
“For the show I am positively surprised by how many companies are wanting to participate,” Coccagna says.
“We are actually counting more than 50 companies today that have actually signed up and I think in the end we will have something like 60 – a little bit more international than Chinese but in square meters it’s about half-half.
“From the exhibition fields, what surprised me is there are a lot of tree nurseries wanting to go to China; we have a lot of them,” she says, adding leading sorting and packing machinery companies had signed up as well as people from the fertilizer business.
She emphasizes networking will also be an important focus, while also providing the opportunity for international visitors to see both regular and modern Chinese apple orchards through field visits.
“Actually when we started we didn’t think we would have so much exhibition participation because it’s the first time; companies often want to stand by and watch what’s going on before they actually decide to participate.
“It’s supposed to be a get-together for everyone working around apples in Asia where someone who is participating can go to the exhibition, follow the congress, go on the tours and meet people personally, and everyone participating will have a good feeling of what it’s like in Shandong at the moment.”
According to a release from Fiera Bolzano, more than 90% of all orchards in Shandong still lack protection against hail, birds or frost, while less than 20% of them have fertigation facilites and the degree of mechanization still lies under 30%.
With this scenario in mind, the Chinese market presents a perfect opportunity for both Fiera Bolzano itself and apple industry stakeholders to open up new markets.
“They will be a competitor more for the European apple producers, but it will come anyway sometime like in all other sectors,” Coccagna says.
“The main point is that China is, for apple and many other sectors, and opportunity. And the companies going to China should not be scared of it but see it as an opportunity to launch their products, no matter what product it is.
“Considering it’s the first edition there are really more people than we actually hoped for in the beginning, so let’s hope that the future is even better.”