Red meat delegation off to China

GERARD HUTCHING
Last updated 05:00 14/06/2014

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In a sign that red-meat exporters are serious about dealing with China, representatives of all major companies are heading to Beijing next week to meet leading officials.

Meat Industry Association chief executive Tim Ritchie said the visit of the 12-strong delegation would mark the first time that the industry had combined for a China trip.

It was a sign of the importance placed on the Chinese market, which is now the No 1 export destination of New Zealand sheep meat.

The delegation would include board chairs, chief executives and senior staff. They would be meeting regulatory agencies, industry bodies and customers.

In 2013, New Zealand sent 36 per cent of all sheep meat exports and 10 per cent of beef to China. Total red meat industry exports to China were worth almost $1.3 billion.

China accounted for 28 per cent of the value of all sheep meat exports, compared with the next most important, the United Kingdom, at 21 per cent.

"The delegation will demonstrate to regulators that we are committed to the highest standards of food safety," Ritchie said.

He said the visit would offer exporters a chance to learn what the Chinese wanted. "That's part of what's exciting about the market. We are still learning what the Chinese value, for example, they use cuts like breasts and flaps in hot pot," he said.

The industry's relationships with importers in traditional markets such as the United Kingdom and Europe had evolved on an individual company basis, he said.

At present most meat sold in China is low value, whole carcasses, but some companies are bucking the trend.

Silver Fern Farms recently launched an online retail range of frozen lamb in Shanghai, sold in the same packaging as the company's meats are retailed in supermarkets in New Zealand.

The meat is sold through NZ Focus, an online and distribution arm of New Zealand Trade & Enterprise.

In January this year Silver Fern Farms hosted a 45-strong delegation of Chinese buyers from a variety of food marketing and distribution businesses. "It's an important way for us to build trust with our customers so they are confident in growing their trade with us," chief executive Keith Cooper said.

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