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China's expanding middle class targeted by Australian quality food exporters

Time: 2018-12-10 11:07   Source: IFE China   Clicks:

Whether it be wine, beef or grain, China's rapidly growing middle class is developing a taste for quality Australian produce.

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By 2022, there will be 550 million middle class people in China, making up three-quarters of the urban population.

Export companies are spruiking the safety and traceability of Australian produce, and targeting the increasingly refined tastes of our main trading partner.

Quality over quantity

At the Communist Party of China's most recent National Party Congress, political leaders prioritised the improvement of the community's health and wellbeing, while meeting consumption demands.

Chinese middle class

By 2022, China's middle class will consist of 550 million people. 

(Supplied: Jon Daly)

The Australia China Business Council food and agribusiness committee chair Phillip Melville said that gave Australia an edge.

"We're talking about a lot of these small, premium products.

"In the grain industry, we export 66 per cent of China's barley, mainly malting barley for their beer."

COFCO is the international arm of the Chinese government's massive global food and agribusiness conglomerate.

Speaking at a recent trade forum in Perth, COFCO Australia CEO Yebin 'Bruce' Li said there were plenty of export opportunities for a range of Western Australia's agricultural products, provided they met food quality and safety standards.

He identified a big growth market in beef.

"Brazil and US have competed on the cost but, on the quality side, Australia is better," Mr Li said.

Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) general manager of international markets, Michael Finucan said that Australian boxed meat exports to China were up 55 per cent on last year.

"The market is looking for our product," he said.

True Aussie branding rolled out

The True Aussie beef and lamb branding has been rolled out in supermarkets around Asia. 

(Supplied: MLA)

Meeting Chinese demand

While it was a lucrative market, Mr Finucan said it was complex.

Each province and city have their own unique cuisines and preferences when it comes to meat.

"A lot of people talk about that large middle class being 300 million people, but we actually narrow it down," Mr Finucan said.

Mr Finucan said MLA targeted affluent households with incomes over $35,000 per year, which accounts for about 8 million people.

"It's a group that's going to double over the next four to five years," he said.

Singaporean businessman Bruce Cheung is capitalising on that premium market with his Wagyu beef cattle from Pardoo Station in WA's Pilbara region.

Wagyu beef fetches a premium in several overseas markets because of its marbling, and buttery taste.

"We feel we have a unique product, because we really are end-to-end, and we are very traceable," Mr Cheung said.

It is not just boxed meat beginning to make its way into Chinese markets.

The China-Australia Free Trade Agreement was signed about three years ago and there was talk at the time that more than a million head of cattle could be exported to China under the new deal.

But for now, it's only a trickle.

Steve Meerwald- Wellard Rural exports Managing Director

Harmony Agriculture director Steve Meerwald says live cattle exports to China are a big opportunity for the Australian industry. 

(ABC News)

Live trade gates open

The first real shipment of cattle to China left the Port of Townsville earlier this year with 1,600 brahman-cross steers from central Queensland.

A big boost for the trade is flagged for next year, when a 10 per cent tariff on live cattle is removed.

Harmony Agriculture and Food Company is a Chinese-owned business looking to cash in on a new live trade with China.

Harmony has about 15,000 head of cattle on properties in WA and Victoria.

Its director Steve Meerwald said there were "markets within markets" in China.

"That ranges from younger grass-fed cattle to what we ship, which is long-term, 100-day-plus, grain-fed cattle that are 600–650 kilograms," he said.

But the trade to China has had some issues.

Harmony's subsidiary, Phoenix Exports, is being investigated by the Federal Department of Agriculture and its ability to export to China has been suspended.

That action was taken after two shipments earlier this year exceeded the mortality-rate threshold of 1 per cent for voyages of more than 10 days.

"Essentially, we're talking about respiratory disease, heat stress and a particular class of cattle," Mr Meerwald said.

"This hasn't really been done before. We know that short-fed cattle didn't suffer or have the same outcomes, and we know that grass-fed cattle of a similar weight didn't have the same outcomes."

Mr Meerwald said Phoenix would stop shipping older, grain-fed cattle to China in its warmer months in response to the suspension.