Thursday, June 29, 2017

Bringing together women of the seafood industry to connect producers and buyers

Hannah Street

A trade mission organized by WSDA’s International Marketing Program and the USDA Agricultural Trade Office in Shanghai brought together women leaders in the seafood industry from both China and the U.S. to discuss the logistics of potential business relationships.

The trade mission group poses at the National Oyster Company on June 23, 2017.
The group of a dozen mostly women met Friday at the agency’s main office in Olympia for a round-table discussion that included representatives from Washington shellfish operations and potential buyers from China. Afterwards, the group paid visits to local shellfish farms and operations. The previous day, WSDA staff had partnered with the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) to bring the group of buyers to meet with women in other seafood industry sectors in the Seattle area.

China is one of Washington state’s top agriculture trading partners. In 2016, China imported $683 million worth of Washington food and agriculture products, with seafood, wheat and french fries topping their buying list.

Interest between the two groups at the Friday’s meeting was mutual. Producers are eager to expand their reach, and there’s a fresh food market in China with room for the unique flavors of Pacific Coast shellfish.

“Chinese consumers want high-quality shellfish and more of it,” said Ren Chen, Director of Strategic Sourcing at Shanghai Yiguo E-commerce Company.

Challenges include cultural differences and variances of shellfish knowledge that will test marketing and distribution skills. For example, one attendee explained testing practices differ between American and Chinese regulatory groups because consumers in both countries eat seafood differently.

Dungeness crabs, for example, have encountered testing holdup because Americans eat crab meat but Chinese eat the entire crab.

The group discusses trade and challenges women face in the shellfish industry
during a roundtable meeting on June 23, 2017.
The Chinese businesses included consumer grocery platforms and large-scale, regulatory entities with mainstream e-commerce and retail clients. Washington companies included local shellfish giants, like Taylor Shellfish, and niche companies like Set & Drift Shellfish which markets Fjordlux oysters.

Regardless of business model, the Chinese representatives emphasized hyper-fresh and hyper-available products. Smooth importing is crucial; getting seafood from the docks to stores is one battle. Familiarizing consumers with Pacific Northwest seafood products is another.

“Chinese are not very sophisticated about oysters, and there isn’t as much knowledge about Washington oysters,” said Helen Gao of Shanghai Gfresh.

To increase demand of Washington oysters in an overseas market dominated by the economy and familiarity of French oysters, education, like taste cards with flavor profiles and taste testing, is key.

In addition to product acclimation, marketing and selling the imported seafood must fit seamlessly with the Chinese consumer’s way of life. Americans do most grocery shopping once per week, whereas Chinese do their grocery shopping daily, at most going three days between trips, said Gao.

Another difference is that American markets can handle large shipments of shellfish because Americans buy large quantities, especially frozen products. Chinese representatives agreed, however, that their consumers would want smaller, consumer-friendly packaging within large shipments.

“It was amazing to see so many women in leadership positions come together to discuss these issues,” said Rianne Perry, manager of the International Marketing Program.

Representative from USDA, WSDA and ASMI pose in Seattle on June 22, 2017.