Putting New Zealand meat on Chinese tables
Xibin Chen is China's biggest importer of New Zealand lamb. Last year he took more than $140 million or 30,000 tonnes of New Zealand meat to China.
His company Grand Farm has been selling New Zealand meat to Chinese consumers since 2000, including putting Kiwi beef in McDonald's hamburger patties in China, to airlines and directly to consumers.
Grand Farm products are sold in more than 5000 stores in China. Some of the meat he imports is co-branded in Chinese supermarkets as Pure South, Alliance Group's export packaged meat brand.
It is Invercargill-based Alliance Group's biggest customer, making up 30 per cent of Alliance's total sales. Most of the meat he imports from Alliance, a farmer-owned co-operative, is sheepmeat.
Some of it is processed in China into retail-ready products like packaged lamb rack and kebabs as consumers move away from lower-value lamb cuts.
Chinese customers consider New Zealand meat to be of high quality from a "small, clean, green" country.
"Consumers love New Zealand products and through their nice eating experience they develop a passion for New Zealand," Chen said.
Grand Farm recently ran a competition sponsoring winners to visit New Zealand, allowing them to trace the meats they bought in China back to the farm it was grown on to enhance their understanding of the food production and safety process.
Chen has a high profile in China, as president of the Heilongjiang Meat Association and vice president of China Meat Association. He attended the official celebration dinner for the Free Trade Agreement with New Zealand being signed under Helen Clark's government and met prime minister John Key when he was in Beijing earlier this year.
In recent months, New Zealand sheep and beef meat was held up by officials at Chinese ports after the former Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry became the Ministry for Primary Industries.
"I felt the key reason was there was a problem with paper work, both sides needed to spend more time resolving that," Chen said, adding that it was no longer an issue.
He is expanding his operations in China, building a cold room that can store 20,000 tonnes of meat at a time and establishing a Cattle Research Centre to enhance food safety practices, study stock breeding, inspection and disease prevention.
Grand Farm is the only company in the Heilongjiang province, population 38.3 million, with state approval to process mutton and beef. It has capacity to slaughter half a million sheep and 10,000 deer a year.
His number one piece of advice for New Zealand companies wanting to sell food in China would be to use a distributor or go-between who understands the local market.