An initial and ambitious step toward developing demand for U.S. beef in China was taken last week as the U.S. Beef China Roadshow, a week-long series of events organized by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF), brought exporters and importers together in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, China. The activities were made possible through support from the Nebraska Beef Council.
The “roadshow” moniker was an appropriate choice, as USMEF staff and 17 member companies began the journey Sept. 25 with a U.S. beef showcase in Beijing and then traveled to Shanghai for a similar program on Sept 27. By the end of the week, the contingent had moved to Guangzhou, where the roadshow concluded with an overview of U.S. beef, trade networking, product sampling and an American-style barbecue reception highlighting alternative cuts. More than 300 Chinese importers -- buyers who were selected and screened by USMEF -- attended each of the three roadshow events.
“We started in the north, moved to central China and finally ended up in the south, allowing U.S. companies to see and experience different regions of the country,” Ming Liang, USMEF marketing director in China, explained. “At the same time, Chinese buyers from each stop were able to interact with U.S. exporters. What this roadshow confirmed is that USMEF is in a unique position to facilitate meetings to assist U.S. packers and other exporters, as well as help our partners in the Chinese trade in an effort to get more U.S. beef into the country.”
At each of the three roadshow stops, member companies exhibited U.S. beef products. A simple opening ceremony in each location included a brief overview of the current U.S. beef market, along with introductions by company representatives. Each roadshow event was themed with a particular popular local beef dining concept, including hot pot, Korean barbecue and western steakhouse. Cutting demonstrations and tastings were held throughout each event by USMEF’s technical consultant.
“The roadshow idea grew out of the need to introduce American companies to the Chinese market as well as to provide Chinese distributors, retailers, restaurateurs and chefs an opportunity to handle and taste U.S. beef, with a goal of building on the momentum that started when China reopened to U.S. beef earlier this year,” said Joel Haggard, USMEF senior vice president for the Asia Pacific. “In each of the three cities, there was obvious excitement on both sides, with importers lining up to meet USMEF’s exporter members. We’ve said that developing the China market will take time, but we are very pleased with the reception we received this week. Our members who took part were excited about what they saw and walked away with serious commercial interest.”
Peter Cho, purchasing manager for Topping Cuisine International, a major food importer, distributor, meat processor and restaurant chain operator based in Shanghai, said U.S. beef sales started in August with the understanding that it would take time to convince Chinese customers and consumers to move to U.S. beef. He said the goal was to let them appreciate the difference between U.S. beef and beef from other countries.
“There is a learning curve, and higher pricing is a challenge, but we feel that, as time goes by and people are able to experience U.S. beef’s quality, demand for it will grow,” he explained, adding that the success of U.S. beef in China will require a consistent – and persistent – approach.
“I believe as demand expands, the U.S. beef industry will eventually produce more beef for the market. As a result, prices should come down,” Cho said.
U.S. exporters participating in the roadshow varied from well-established players to new companies hoping to capitalize on China’s reopening to U.S. beef.
John Zhong, chief executive officer of Better Protein Inc., an operation based out of Des Moines, Iowa, that is made up of family farm cooperatives across the Midwest, said his company was able to collect a solid list of contacts at each stop that included not only Chinese importers but also foodservice and retail professionals.
“Our next step is to go back home to the U.S. and to follow up with our roadshow contacts to learn more about their product needs. We’ll touch base and start working together to create solutions and strategies for the market and I hope to begin supplying U.S. beef to China soon,” Zhong said.
Other U.S. exporters agreed that learning about the needs of potential customers was extremely valuable.
“We really looked forward to the roadshow because it would allow us to get a practical education on China and learn what we need to do to be successful here,” said Michael Strohecker, CEO of AmeriRanch, a California-based trading company that partners with family cattle ranches in Utah, Wyoming and Montana. “The week went almost exactly as we hoped when it was proposed. We were able to meet with several potential customers and learn what consumers here are interested in. USMEF did a tremendous job of putting both sides together in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. You could see the differences in each city and region, but you could also see the things that are common throughout China.”
Steve Summers, sales manager for One World Beef, also noted that each stop on the roadshow provided a different perspective on the overall market.
“You could feel the energy for U.S. beef, and I was able to meet several top-notch importers at each stop – and each had their own story and own approach to their business,” Summers said. “That’s the real advantage to seeing different parts of China and meeting different kinds of buyers. Our job now is to try to match our U.S. beef products with each of those buyers to help fit their needs.”
Between roadshow events, USMEF led representatives of member companies on visits to Chinese retailers, cold storage facilities and restaurants serving U.S. beef in each city.
Bernard Rigal, managing director of sales for Colorado-based Platte Valley Food Group, called the roadshow an invaluable experience.
“How else, other than through USMEF’s efforts to put this together for members, would we get to accomplish all of these things in one week? It was truly great to see the tremendous opportunity China offers for U.S. beef, with real potential for endless growth,” Rigal said. "I was able to meet potential customers that were selected by USMEF, so we were able to talk business and discuss future business.”
As the final event in Guangzhou wrapped up, Haggard pointed out that the U.S. Beef China Roadshow is only the starting point for what is certain to be a long road to getting U.S. beef established in the Chinese marketplace.
“In reality, this is only the very beginning of a campaign to develop distribution channels for U.S. beef in China,” he said. “The hard work starts now. We have scheduled trainings and seminars to educate importers, distributors, retailers and restaurant operators about U.S. beef, and those will begin almost immediately. We are truly in it for the long run, but the roadshow was a critical initial event that will add momentum to the current growth in purchases and shipments.”