Mark Tanner
27 April 2022 0 Comments

It was March 2021 when the EU-China agreement protecting geographical indications (GIs) came into force. This aimed to recognise and protect around 200 distinct agri-food producing regions. It included well known specialties such as Feta, Prosciutto di Parma, Irish whiskey, Münchener Bier and Ouzo from Europe and Pixian Bean Paste, Anji White Tea, Panjin rice and Anqiu Ginger from China.

A year on, we were interested to see that one of the eight food staple trends in a recently-released report from JD Super, was the rise in agricultural food with GI. Over the past year, Chinese consumers have become increasingly interested in food products possessing qualities or a reputation based on where they are produced.

JD Super noted that demand for Wuchang rice grew 105% in 2021. Similarly Ningxia wolfberries were up 78%, Gutian mushrooms rose 60% and Shanxi aged vinegar grew 56%. Although the examples cited were for food produced in Chinese regions, they represent wider recognition from Chinese consumers seeking out a food or beverage’s qualities based on the specific region that they are grown in.

The country or continent of origin has long been a key driver for Chinese consumers buying food and beverages, but the increased interest in regional provenance is symbolic of the further sophistication in Chinese consumers’ decisions when making purchases.

The GI trend presents an opportunity for food producers who come from areas where there is a point of difference in their fare. China imports food from more than 180 countries, with over 25 of them exporting edibles worth over a billion dollars a year. This, coupled with increasingly savvy domestic food marketers, makes it more difficult to stand out in a very crowded market. A unique angle for food exporters such as a regional claim allows them to play to China’s love of novel and differentiated. It appeals to both their individual curiosity, and their ability to build status by sharing online.

Chinese drinkers are increasingly exploring different regions for foreign wine and, as a nation of foodies, it is inevitable that regional variations will continue to become more important in other imported food and beverage choices.

For smaller food producers and brands, banding together with similar producers can provide the scale needed to cut through the clutter and engage with distributors, research and other services at a meaningful level. It also helps them add value to their products and create more iconic offerings. Even smaller regions which don’t have the scale of Feta cheese or Parma ham from either a marketing or supply angle, can focus on a specific city or region in China that shows a strong propensity to their offering.

Selling a regional food and beverage story is much bigger than the food itself, and should be considered in unison with tourism organisations to enrich the appeal, as they will stand to benefit from visitors once China opens up again. Food and beverage has long been one of the primary decisions for Chinese travellers choosing a holiday destination.

For food producing regions who weren’t part of last year’s EU-China agreement, the first step in promoting your region is to protect the GI. The Champagne journey over the past three decades, should provide a roadmap for this. Once that is covered, the fun stuff starts, such as defining the target audience and geographies and localising your unique proposition for the China market. China Skinny can work with you to determine that and the best steps forward, please contact us to learn more.

There’ll be no Skinny newsletter next week due to the Labour Day May Holiday. Those of us in Shanghai and some other cities will be spending it a little differently than usual. We’ll be back after the break.

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