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Reflections on BioFach and the Chinese organic sector
by Redaktion (comments: 0)
Yinghui Zhang-Carraro is a freelancer on organic products and greener living in Beijing and the organizer of the First Organic Farmers’ Market in Beijing. She participated in the 2009 and 2010 BioFach Shanghai, also in this year’s BioFach Nuremberg. She also is busy with an investigation (two-years and still on-going) into the organic sector in Beijing, by visiting farms, producers and organic stores. The following is written based on her personal understanding and observation of the organic sector in China. Questions are: What are the implications for China? And is there any role that western companies can play to help China’s organic sector towards balanced development? (Picture: The first BioFach China took place in 2007)There were around 30 exhibitors from China participating this year in February in the world’s biggest organic fair, BioFach Nuremberg. In comparison with other countries, most of the Chinese participants were not clustered, but scattered in different locations, except for several companies gathered together under the roof of the certification body Ceres, Shanghai. Nearly all the Chinese exhibitors were agricultural raw-material producers/exporters, which does fit the world’s image of China as a farming nation, but what about processed agricultural products?
(Picture: Chinese exhibitor (right) with a person from the Chinese certifaction body OFDC at BioFach Nuremberg)
China does have some good organic tea producers which grow and process great organic teas. Tea was the first organic agricultural product China started with in the beginning of 1990s. China also produces good organic noodles, but among a couple of producers, only Boatgerm Organic Food Manufacturing Co., Ltd. makes good and a variety of organic noodle products which have been both exported to other countries and marketed in domestic market."
Camellia oil has been widely used in some part of the country, and there are a couple of great organic and wild camellia oil producers which cold press the great oil, like Zhejiang Choisun Tea Development Co., Ltd. and De Xing Yuan Sen Red Camellia Oil Co., Ltd. In general, however, there are few organic producers in China that can make the organic raw agricultural materials into processed organic products, which are much needed in the market.
(Picture: Exhibitor at BioFach Nuremberg: Boatgerm Organic Food with the brand Springlife)
At this year’s Biofach Shanghai, which took place on 27-29 May, there were 313 exhibitors compared with 238 of last year. Of the 313 exhibitors 50 were from outside China, coming from 16 different countries and regions and bringing with them a wide range of products, including organic pastas and sauces, organic extra virgin olive oil and other oils, virgin organic coconut oil, organic wines, organic beef and lamb, a wide selection of Japanese organic food products, Indian organic teas, German herbal teas and honey, natural skin care products, eco household cleaning products, and much more. Some of these products are not found on the Chinese organic market yet. Chinese exhibitors were grouped by province and brought mainly raw materials and lightly processed products from their own regions, and there was also a section with tea producers.
(Picture: Organic Farm at BioFach China: One of the most important players in the Chinese organic sector)
According to Axel Bartkus, managing director of NürnbergMesse China, this year’s increase in participation was due to the rising awareness of organic products and the LOHAS lifestyle of the local Chinese people. BioFach in Shanghai focuses on avoiding over-fast development and keeping growth sustainable by implementing strict criteria for participants. During both exhibitions, I talked to participants and visitors, both domestic and international, and could see broad and deep interest both from China and the rest of the world in Chinese organic and natural products. (Picture: Axel Bartkus, CEO NürnbergMesse China)
The domestic organic market is definitely increasing rapidly. But China till now must import many processed organic products from other countries. However, after my nearly two-year investigation (still on-going) into the organic sector in Beijing, carried out by visiting farms, producers and organic stores to taste and try all the products available and to check their practices, I want to argue that there is a great lack of organic food processing capability across the whole organic sector in China. This is one of the areas where foreign organic businesses could play a much bigger role. (Picture: Factory of Dutch-based raw-material-specialist Tradin/ Winged-Ox in Dalian. China is a big sourcing country for raw material: for example pumpkin kernels)
The lack of organic products made in China is evident. For example: China is well-known for its soy products such as soy milk and tofu, but there is no single producer of such organic products in the market. Though the Chinese eat soy products on a daily basis, few are familiar with the soy version of organic yogurt, for instance the great products Soyasun and Sojade from Triballat Noyal France. In Germany, Life Food GmbH Taifun produces 37 different types of tofu product and supplies many European countries. Chinese organic consumers can only envy their European counterparts for having the choice of so many delicious products, some of which actually originated in oriental countries. (Picture: Local production of soy milk and Tofu on an organic farm near Shanghai)
Another example: Blueberries have been marketed as a super healthy fruit and China is a big grower of blueberries, but organic pure blueberry juice is nowhere to be found. There are no local organic jams made from organic fruits with organic sugar or organic concentrated fruit juices but only imported ones from Germany, France, Denmark, Italy and the US. During BioFach Nuremberg 2010, I had a chance to taste Aya Goji-Secco made by a German company with Goji berries imported from China and it truly appeals to the taste buds of the Chinese. In Beijing I tasted more than a dozen organic extra virgin olive oils imported from countries like Italy, Spain, Greece and France, but only two stood out: Minerva from Greece and Bio Planète from France. However, due to inappropriate marketing in both cases, Minerva is not operating at the moment and Bio Planète has not been selling well. (Picture: Imported organic products at City Shop in Shanghai)
During BioFach Shanghai, Oleificio SABO from Switzerland was present both last year and this year and looking for an import agent. It is a good idea to export good organic extra virgin olive oil to China as it is badly needed, but China produces all sorts of vegetable oils, since these oils are part of their diet. It might, therefore, be a good idea to set up joint production facilities in China to produce other organic vegetable oils where raw materials are grown locally, particularly when cold-pressing is still not common even among organic oil producers in China. (Picture: Tradin / Winged-Ox Branch in Northern China, specialized in sunflower kernels)
Although Sodasan Germany and Seventh Generation USA have been in the Chinese market in the last couple of years, since they are extremely expensive, few green consumers can afford them. And there have been no systematic education and promotion activities by import agents and retailers. During BioFach Shanghai this year, Ecover Belgium showed its face on the mainland market with almost its total product range. With its successful marketing experience in England, in due course it may become a green household name in China.
Alce Nero, one of the organic pioneers in Italy, has been making progress in the Chinese market introducing organic pastas and sauces to a country where noodles are one of the main foods. Previously Rapunzel Germany was in the market from 2005 to 2008, but with no marketing at all for all its high-quality products, including pastas and other products such as Rapadura sugar, it disappeared silently from the scene. Because Italy is known for its pastas, with the right marketing scheme Alce Nero could become well established as one of the first few pioneers to explore the Chinese organic market just at the time when it is gaining ground.
(Picture: The Government supports organic agriculture, but must support also marketing: Government supported farm near Shanghai)
In conclusion, it would make much more sense in the long run for certain foreign organic processors to move into the Chinese organic market and set up businesses producing many of the products that are lacking due to the backward processing capabilities, particularly popular food items and ecological cleaning products. On one hand, this would lead to a reduction in production costs of these products and help the local organic industry, and on the other this could also help to lower carbon emissions by producing locally for the local or regional markets.