From Ecuadorian shrimp to Russian king crab, getting a taste of the ocean has never been easier these days for many Chinese. But for exporters trying to tap into this fast-growing seafood market, they need more than just quality products.
At the China Fisheries and Seafood Expo (CFSE), which runs from Wednesday to Friday in the eastern coastal city of Qingdao, Shandong Province, exporters around the world are bringing out their best to woo increasingly sophisticated Chinese customers."Chinese consumers at home may not barbecue or bake fish in the style of Americans or Europeans. Instead, they may put it into hotpot or even in steamed dishes," said Jeff Welbourn, senior director of new business development of China for Trident Seafoods, a U.S.-based seafood company.
"We should be sensitive to the way people eat fish here and make sure we develop the products that are exciting to Chinese consumers," he said.
To meet the demand of health-conscious Chinese consumers, the company strives to ensure product quality from source to plate, using supply chain management to win over the rapidly growing and diverse Chinese market, according to Welbourn.
As China's middle-class population grows, more people now crave a diversified menu on their dining tables, leading to an increasing demand for high-quality seafood.
The rapid development of e-commerce added to seafood's popularity, with companies such as JD.com and Alibaba promising to deliver fresh seafood to the doorsteps of major city households within hours.
For global exporters, China's growing appetite for seafood means opportunities. In the first eight months of this year, China's seafood imports surged 24.8 percent year on year in U.S. dollar terms, official data showed."China is such a big market that there is room for everyone," said Roberto Coronel Kronfle, of Industrial Pesquera Santa Priscila, an Ecuadorian shrimp company.
The firm is expected to see more than 70 percent of its total sales this year coming from China, Coronel said.
Santa Priscila's booth at the CFSE neighbors several other Ecuadorian shrimp exporters, all of which were often surrounded by importers inquiring about quotations.
To win over the buyers, each firm has developed its own tactics. Jose Luis Salvador, a sales manager for Ecuadorian shrimp exporter Alimesa, said that the company's competitive advantage lies in quality control as well as a commitment to deliver on time.
"Every client needs a certain date for shipment. That is very important now, so we have to be prepared and pack everything on time according to our selected partners' needs. We need to comply with what was agreed," he said.
For some companies, the key to success in China is about focusing on a niche market. Future Cuisine, a producer and exporter of premium New Zealand seafood, is targeting consumers that crave the best with its export of king salmon, a rare species of salmon.
"Now more and more Chinese travel to New Zealand and can get a taste of king salmon that they will never forget. People do taste the difference," said Sophia Liu, general manager of the company's China operations.
For others, the trick is about packaging. Vivian Zhang, general manager of KONO Pure NZ Trading (Shanghai), a subsidiary of Kono, a green shell mussels producer and exporter in New Zealand, said the firm designed a smaller packaging of mussels specifically for the Chinese market to cater to the demand of retail customers, who often like to buy online.
"Chinese consumers are becoming increasingly sophisticated. It is an opportunity that we can not afford to miss out on," she said.