Podcast: The Detail

China’s appetite for change

After China's succession of food scares, and post-Covid wariness, consumer demands there are changing. New Zealand can take advantage of that, or be left behind

Covid-19 has heightened Chinese consumer concerns about food safety, and industry players are warning New Zealand businesses to keep up.

Today The Detail looks at the growing demand for plant-based meats and food traceability in China, and how that will affect us.

Entrepreneur Jade Gray has spent the last two decades working in the food industry all over China - from cattle farming, to butchery, to opening his own restaurant group, Gung Ho.

But in recent years he has noticed a growing interest in alternative meats, or plant-based foods.

"Consumer needs ... [and] the Government's needs around food security, climate change, water scarcity, irrigable land issues - there's a raft of really large forces at play that has created the perfect storm on the back of Covid-19 for plant-based nutrition," he says.

In 2016 the Chinese government set health guidelines aimed at halving meat consumption per capita by 2030.

This was lauded as a "leadership position" by big names in Hollywood like director James Cameron and blockbuster star Arnold Schwarzenegger.

International figures show that China consumes around 28 percent of the global meat supply and that's a big deal when the global industry is worth nearly a trillion dollars.

New Zealand beef and lamb exports alone reached $1.5b just last year.

But Gray says times are changing, especially since Covid-19, where there is a growing perception that meat is a virus carrier.

Meat companies are now competing with laboratories that can create plant based alternatives.

"Chinese consumers aren't trusting local produce as much, they're going to more high-end retail ... where they're getting access to imported products ... and brands from New Zealand. What that trend actually is, is people looking for safe forms of protein, not necessarily saying they're looking for New Zealand lamb or beef," he says.

Gray says there's still time for New Zealand to get into the race of plant-based proteins.

The Detail also speaks to Gavin Liu Yang, from TradeMonster, which helps Kiwi companies crack the Chinese market.

He says food traceability - being able to track every single stage of production, processing and distribution - is becoming more and more important to consumers.

Yang and his team spend a lot of their time fielding questions about the quality of products and where they've been.

"We have to provide all the necessary information including our logistics records, our purchasing record, our authorisation, our stock-moving report and even sometimes we work with the manufacturer to go through a lab report," he says.

"Our customer experience team is experiencing these kinds of enquiries every day."

Yang says there are real benefits to food traceability such as developing trust in branding, creating loyal customers and spending less time having to answer questions from consumers and border control.

His advice to Kiwi businesses? Take traceability seriously.

Want more from The Detail? Find past episodes here.

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