Imported cherries ‘no longer a premium product’ for China, claims Frutacloud chief
The popularity of cherries has soared to new heights in China over recent years, especially during Chinese New Year celebrations, but foreign suppliers cannot afford to rest on their laurels. The quality of locally-grown fruit is improving and consumer tastes are evolving, according to one leading importer-distributor.
“Five or 10 years ago cherry imports to China were limited. Customers did not know much about this product and there was little demand. Consumption was concentrated in coastal cities and middle and high-class consumer groups,” says Frutacloud CEO George Liu in a release.
Liu says a sharp increase in supply over recent years had been expected, attributing the rise to the availability of new marketing channels and cherries’ positioning as a premium product for Chinese New Year.
To put the volume rise in perspective, a decade ago China was only importing one million boxes of Chilean cherries but that figure has risen to 30 million this year. And from the United States, whose season coincides with China's, shipments have almost tripled since 2012 to reach just shy of three million boxes.
“With the development of global trade, more and more fruits are being imported into China. At the same time, e-commerce has developed quickly, meaning more people in the mainland could purchase through the internet and so this product quickly occupied all market channels,” says Liu, who will be speaking on the topic at the first-ever Global Cherry Summit in Chile on April 25 this year.
But Chinese consumers are not limited to cherries imported from the likes of the U.S. or Chile. Liu explains most domestic production is based in the country’s northeastern provinces of Shandong, Beijing, Liaoning and Shanxi where climates are “particularly suitable” for the crop.
Locally-grown cherries may not currently be considered on par with imported fruit, but the executive believes this might not be the case for much longer.
“With increasing demand for cherries in China alongside the development of Chinese agricultural technology, the quality of local cherries will slowly catch up with imported cherries,” he says.
This transition will take time though, with Liu pointing to marked differences in current production practices in the U.S. and China.
“In the U.S. Northwest, cherry trees are planted in volcanic soil, are irrigated with ice snowmelt, and tend to get 700 hours of winter sleep, which make their cherries high quality with a big-volume harvest,” says Liu.
Liu also attributes the success of imported cherries to stricter international food safety and packaging standards.
With so many changes having taken place in the Chinese cherry market over the years, he urges foreign suppliers to fully understand their customers’ needs.
“In my opinion, I suggest cherry exporters collect more feedback from China’s consumers, including on packaging, variety, quality, and taste, and to do some research to find out what kind of cherries Chinese consumers prefer,” he says.
“Because imported cherry is no longer a premium item for Chinese consumers, people will pay more attention to whether the quality is good enough. It is no doubt that a great sales volume must be based on a high quality and appropriate pricing.”
Liu adds the use of 500g packaging has been successful this summer.
“The Chinese are willing to finish the products in one day, and they buy cherries every day, so small packages are suitable for the consumers,” he says.