Kiwi wine, water and crayfish a hit with Chinese diners
When it comes to high end gourmet goods the Chinese have a growing appetite for New Zealand wine, water and crayfish.
Simon Zhou of Ruby Red Fine Wine began importing wine to China more than 10 years ago, supplying top hotels, fine dining restaurants, and private collectors.
He lived in New Zealand for 15 years, and graduated with an electrical engineering degree from Canterbury University before his interest in wine took hold, and he worked in the Waipara vineyards for a period.
He said average wine consumption per head in China was still very low compared with other wine-drinking nations, "but you add a lot of people together and the market is big."
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Red wine was much more popular than white, and there had been a move away from French labels as New Zealand, Australian, Chilean and Spanish wine gained in popularity.
"It used to be 90 per cent French, now it's 50 per cent."
Zhou said his target market was aged 25 to 45 and the vast majority of wine drinkers were men because traditionally Chinese women did not consume alcohol.
That was changing, particularly amongst younger women influenced perhaps by western media images of females drinking alcohol.
Zhou said the approach to selling New Zealand wine in China depended very much on volume.
"If you're only producing 20,000 cases you're not going to get into supermarkets.
"You just need to find five CEOs who like your wine and they will probably consume that in their companies. A tiny bit of the market is enough for your production."
Presentation was also important, he said.
"You look at the way Europeans do business, they are much more slick, we're too laid back.
"It's better now, but we used to have wine makers that turned up with shorts and jandals for presentations; it's too casual."
Zhou said Kiwis also had to get better at telling the "story" of their product.
"Just saying you are from New Zealand doesn't mean anything because we're competing with the whole world.
"What gives you an edge? If you are from Marlborough, why is Marlborough good? What makes you special?"
Zhou took on distribution of Antipodes bottled water in 2008 because it shared the same clientele as the wine he was selling.
At twice the price of well known European water brands it was mostly bought by corporates, but wealthier Chinese were now purchasing it for personal household consumption, he said.
"There are some customers who use it to brew top end tea that costs NZ$500 a kilo."
Zhou said in some respects water sales reflected the changing China economy, as people aspired to a better lifestyle which was reflected in what they ate and drank.
New Zealand crayfish is another luxury Kiwi product gracing Chinese dining tables with more than 2000 tonnes airfreighted there annually.
Fiordland Lobster Company's chief representative in China, Joe Zhong said the company sent a million-plus live crayfish to China under the KiwiLobster brand last year.
Premium lobsters were a luxury product which fetched up to $1000 a kilo, and with big Fiordland crays weighing in at 5 kilos, they can be very costly crustaceans.
But big was not necessarily better, said Zhong.
"Size doesn't matter and most wedding [parties] prefer a smaller size … Of course for business and family consumption, the large size looks impressive."
Zhong said there were about half a dozen other species of lobster available from Australia, the US, South Africa and South East Asia, and there was also competition from other high end seafood such as King Crab.
Fairfax travelled to China courtesy of Christchurch International Airport