Mark Tanner

China’s Food Industry Influencers: Dying Goats, Banned Brie and Grocery Trolls

2017/09/13 Mark Tanner
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Late last month importation of the soft, creamy and seemingly harmless cow’s-milk cheese Brie was banned in China. The edible mold that helps form Brie’s bloomy rind saw it and a host of other platter favourites including blue, Camembert, Roquefort and goat’s cheese become the latest prohibited foodstuffs in China. They follow a string of fast-growing imports, from chilled beef to kiwifruit, which have been banned and unbanned over the years.

The blacklisting is another reminder of how unpredictable selling into China can be. Even the most prepared cheese exporter would have struggled to foresee and plan for the [hopefully short term] ban. China is well known for its unique regulations – most are a little more predictable, but do require vigilance to ensure you won’t end up with a series of unnecessary fines or even be banned in China.

The changes to China’s Food Safety Law in 2015 are case in point. The amendment removed a clause that required victims to prove personal injury or loss to be eligible for compensation. This has spawned a cottage industry of professional complainers who’ve developed sophisticated operations to challenge food brands and retailers for compensation. Simple labelling mistakes including font sizes being too small or the lack of Chinese translation account for more than two-thirds of the court cases.

On top of keeping up with rules and regulations, brands also need to reinforce their legitimacy with an inherently untrusting Chinese consumer. There are many ways to do this, but the lowest hanging fruit is often gaining trust through your brand’s website.

Imported food brands that are marketed effectively still have a natural trust advantage over domestic players, reinforced with every scandal that goes viral, such as goats dying from eating pesticide-soaked spring onion leaves from an area that supplies vegetables to cities like Shanghai and Beijing. In other recent viral news, it was revealed that Chinese farmland covering an area half the size of California is polluted by a wrap that releases potential carcinogens into the soil and accumulates pesticides and other toxins applied to crops. Would you buy imported food if you could?

Unpredictable changes in China’s regulation can be frustrating or even damaging, yet the opportunities and ever-growing demand for imported foodstuffs will usually outweigh the downsides. This is particularly true for those brands who stay abreast with and understand the regulations, and the market, marketing and sales channel trends – something agencies like China Skinny can assist with. Go to Page 2 to see this week’s China news and highlights.

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