The most exciting sales prospects for West Coast dairying lie in new nutritional production, especially infant milk formula for the "huge and growing" Chinese market, says Westland Milk Products chief executive Rod Quin.
He said increasing demand throughout China for safe and high-quality food was generating major opportunities for the co-operative.
Quin was part of Prime Minister John Key's recent tour to China which took a large group of business and political delegates to celebrate the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries, and the fifth anniversary of the free trade agreement.
"China has an immense drive to source protein and safe food for its increasingly urbanising population," Quin said.
"During the tour it was clear that New Zealand is recognised as a world-leading producer of high-quality agricultural products."
He said the strong emphasis on the importance of people-to-people links in China was the way Westland liked to do business.
"Our marketing strategy is based on having direct and mutually beneficial relationships with our customers, rather than working through agencies or other middle men," he said.
"The message we got from Chinese leadership was this was an appreciated and effective way of doing business in China."
The trade delegation observed growing prospects for New Zealand exporters as the Chinese population became more urban, wealthy and educated.
Half of New Zealand's total export growth during the past five years had come from increased exports to China.
Quin said the potential for more growth was enormous and food exports would have a big role to play in that growth.
"Together the New Zealand and Chinese governments have committed to doubling the two-way trade between our nations to $20 billion by 2015," he said.
Quin said Westland's new nutritional production at its Hokitika plant was nicely positioned to capture some of the growth, especially in infant formula.
"We've successfully completed our first commercial season of the new nutritional plant and now have proven product to take to the Chinese market," he said.
He said the visit to China in the company of a powerful delegation was worthwhile.
"The knowledge will go directly into our marketing efforts, inform the way we do business in China, expand our options for making key contacts, and help direct our focus on achieving a substantial share of the growing potential of the Chinese requirement for food," Quin said.
The visit confirmed Westland had a role in the Chinese market, and could become more of a contributor to wider dairying innovation and thinking.