Who is making food (ingredients) in China? – the structure of the Chinese food industry

One of the first things you need to know about a (potential) Chinese partner is to what system it belongs

This is a blog about food, drinks and their ingredients. However, as Chinese society, including its economy, is organized in a very unique way, it is useful to get more insight in its basic structuring. In fact, several aspects of that structure have been mentioned indirectly in various posts, in particular those about Mengniu Dairy and Yanjing brewing.

Economic sectors

An important type of context is the industrial sector. Chinese economy is divided in a number of industries, headed by a central ministry or organization with ministerial status in Beijing. Each province and autonomous region has a Department corresponding with the central organization. Lower administrative regions have, again corresponding, Bureaus. Chinese usually refer to this as the system (xitong) to which they belong. According to the official parlance, a state-owned enterprise is the property of the entire people, but the central administrative organization of its industrial sector has been given the power to manage the enterprise in the name of the people. The central organization will then delegate that power to its corresponding lower level organization. Those organizations also establish and operate schools and colleges related to their sectors.

An example will help clarify the situation: food manufacturing is typically regarded as Light Industry in China. A state-owned flour plant in Suzhou (Jiangsu), will therefore be typically managed by the municipal Light Industry Bureau, which will report to the provincial Light Industry Department, which operates under the China National Light Industry Council in Beijing. This is the reason why so many company names in China start with the name of the city or province in which it is located: it refers to the main governing body. I have mentioned the Changyu Winery in earlier posts. Its official name is Yantai Changyu Wine Group, which indicates that its CEO is typically reporting to the government of Yantai Municipality in Shandong province.

The value of the place name in a Chinese brand name is attested by the story of Yanjing Brewing laid down in an earlier post. Located in Shunyi County, the brand name originally envisioned was Shunyi Beer, but a ministerial official proposed to change it to a name that was related to Beijing. As Beijing Beer already existed, it became Yanjing Beer.

There are also dedicated light industry colleges like the Zhengzhou University of Light Industry. As attested by several posts in this blog, Zhengzhou is located in one of China’s major food producing regions, the home of, e.g., China’s top snack producer Sinian.

This way of organizing creates a kind of matrix structure in which a Chinese company has to account for its activities and results to the local government, but simultaneously to its sector organization. To stick with Changyu, it is accountable to Yantai Municipality and the Light Industry sector. These two merge in the Yantai Municipal Light Industry Bureau, but it can happen that the provincial or national Light Industry organizations contact Changyu for information about its operations.

Personnel

In the current stage of the development of China, this structure does no exercise a huge influence on issues related to production or marketing and sales. Larger state-owned companies are still affected in the field of human resource, in particular in filling the positions of top managers. Leading functions in companies like Changyu are usually appointed by the organization on the Ministry of Personnel, which also has branches in provinces, cities, counties and other administrative levels. The Party organization is also involvement in such appointments. Nowadays, only people with proven expertise and experience in the field will be considered for appointments of top functions in state owned enterprises, but the political aspect remains. This means that the social networks of the top executives of Chinese companies exercise considerable influence on the day to day managed of the enterprises.

Social embeddedness

The combination of the various stakeholders to which a Chinese enterprise is accountable and the social network can be called: the social embeddedness of Chinese companies. Insight in the affiliation of a Chinese enterprise is vital for Western companies who are seeking or have engaged in partnerships with Chinese counterparts. Too often, Western managers believe that their Chinese partner is ‘a company just like we are’ and that the CEO of the Chinese partner has ‘the same responsibilities as I have’. They aren’t and they don’t. Such misunderstandings will certainly play a role in the problems of companies like FrieslandCampina or Fonterra in China recently reported in the media.

Eurasia Consult’s founder Peter Peverelli is an expert in determining the social embeddedness of Chinese companies and the consequences for their Western partners

Food & beverage covers several sectors

The theme of this blog, food, drinks and ingredients, involves a complex situation, as the manufacturing of these three product groups is dispersed over more than one sector. Light Industry is definitely the largest one, but a number of food companies, in particular those using primary agricultural produce as raw materials, are operating under the Ministry of Agriculture. A special type of companies under Agriculture is State Farms. This name is based on the fact that the first of such companies were large state-owned farms established in rougher regions with no existing agriculture or other economic activity. These farms later also established processing plants of their own. A small number is part of the hierarchy of the Ministry of Commerce. The latter is in charge of distributing goods rather than making them, but in the early decades of the PRC, that ministry also established production units. An industry that is very disperses over those sectors is dairy processing. Interestingly, FrieslandCampina and Fonterra mentioned above are both dairy companies.

Light Industry Top 50 2017

As Chinese ministries (try to) keep track of the industrial statics of their respective sectors, the regularly publish compilations like the top 10, 50, 100 manufacturers of a certain product or sector. The China National Light Industry Council recently published the Top 50 Light Industry companies of 2017. I will list the top 10 in this post.

Rank company sector
1 Maotai spirits
2 Wuliangye spirits
3 Yili dairy
4 Mengniu dairy
5 Wahaha beverages
6 Yanghe spirits
7 Xiwang starch sweeteners
8 Bohai soybean oil
9 Hefeng meat
10 Haitian soy sauce

From this list it is obvious that food, drinks and ingredients are the major sector of Light Industry in China. Actually, it covers a broad range of products, like: toothpaste, detergents, brooms, toys, etc. However, the Top 10 and in fact the entire Top 50 consists of food companies. Regular readers of this blog will recognise several of the companies in this list.

Universities

As mentioned above, universities also play an important role in the development of the Chinese food industry. Their role is so vital, that I have dedicated a special post to them.

Eurasia Consult Food knows the Chinese food industry since 1985. Follow us on Twitter.

Eurasia Consult Consulting can help you embed your business in Chinese society.

Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975.

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Let’s meat in China – the indigenous classification of meat products

China has produced 32.549 mln mt of meat in 2017; up 5.1%.

As food and culture are so intertwined, proper market research in the food industry should take account of the ways the local culture affects the segment of the food industry that is being surveyed. A good example is the post on Leisure Food earlier in this blog.

In this post, I want to introduce the Chinese categorisation of meat products as used in the official publications about the domestic meat industry. I will list the main categories and for each category provide a concise description.

Sausages

Chinese sausages are basically the same as anywhere else. Not need to give a separate definition here. The overwhelming majority of Chinese sausages are made from pork and their Chineseness is mainly expressed by the use of seasoning and herbs.

Two popular types need to be mentioned separately:

Cantonese sausages

Cantonese sausages or la sausages are fermented sausages. The lactic acid produced during the fermentation gives the sausages a specific taste and functions as a natural preservatives. Cantonese sausages are also relative hard, not unlike salami.

CantoneseSausage

A number of research institutes and universities all over China are engaged in R&D to improve the production process of traditional Chinese fermented sausages. Aspects involved include: preventing the oxidation of fat, protecting the colour, enhancing the flavour using enzymes and specially desinged aromas, and decreasing the sodium level.

To learn about a novel type of sausage, date sausages, see my post on dates in this blog.

Ham sausages

This is an umbrella term for a large variety of relatively small sausages that can be consumed as a snack. Chinese love to bring them on a trip, be it a one day tour to a local scenic spot, or a train trip of a couple of days. Although they count as a meat product, many ham sausages have a high starch content to make them soft enough for easy consumption on the road. For the same reason, they are usually relatively small and individually packed.

HamSausage

Ham

Ham in China is again more or less the same as ham elsewhere, made from the same part of the pig. One of my earlier posts is about one of China’s most famous types of ham: Jinhua Ham.

Cured meat

Cured meat products are typically more closely related to the local culture. People in different regions like different combinations of spices. In the case of China, soy sauce is a product often used in curing meat. Star aniseed is also a prominently present in many flavoured meat products from China.

Sauce pickled meat

This category has much in common with the previous one, the main difference being that the products in this category are boiled with spices, while cured meats are pickled and dried.

Cured meats are usually eaten a such, while sauce pickled products are dipped in a sauce when consumed.

Smoked and roasted meat

These products are what the name says: smoked or roasted meat, again usually first pickled.

Dried meat

A very old way to preserve meat is to air or sun dry it. A special product in this category is:

Shred meat/meat floss (rousong)

Marinated pork or beef is roasted over a slow fire until dry and then shredded. Shred beef is used to flavour white rice, rice porridge and my other relatively bland staple foods. An example of such a food is shred meat flavoured bread introduced in my blog on public nutrition in China.

Rousong

Prepared meat products

This is an umbrella term for meat prepared in various ways into semi-finished products. The consumer can transform them into ready to eat products with a minimum of effort.

Canned meat

Canned meat comes in two categories: hard cans, what we are used to refer to as canned meat and soft cans, prepared meat packed in aluminum foil. The former has to be removed from the can for further preparation, while the latter can be prepared by boiling the pack in water.

SoftCan

Hamburger

The Western hamburger is undergoing interesting transformations in China to adapt better to the Chinese palate. It is easy to guess that McDonalds was the first channel through which the beef patty was introduced to China. Burger King followed later. Although very few Chinese dislike beef, when Chinese talk about ‘meat’ in general, without mentioning a particular animal, they are always referring to pork. Burger King is responding to by adding a pork-based hamburger to its product range in China. Their ad even uses the same pun that I included in the title of this post.

To still add some foreignness to the promotion, the text in the lower left corner says that the flavour is based on ‘German roast pork knuckle’. A genuine American European Chinese potpourri of flavours!

Eurasia Consult Food knows the Chinese food industry since 1985. Follow us on Twitter.

Eurasia Consult Consulting can help you embed your business in Chinese society.

Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975.

 

Harbin, Heilongjiang – where the West meets the East

It is about time to highlight another region in this blog. After Pu’er in China’s southernmost province Yunnan, I am taking you to the opposite in this blog, to Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang, which shares a large border with Russia’s Siberia.

What Harbin has in common with Pu’er is that it is not a purely ethnic Chinese city. The name Harbin already betrays that it is not Chinese. A number of stories about the name’s original meaning; one is that it means ‘place to hang fishing nets to dry’ in Manchu, the language of the people with the same name. The Manchus were once a powerful nation, and the emperors of the last imperial dynasty of China, the Qing Dynasty (1622-1912) were Manchus, not Chinese.

Moscow of the orient

After the Russian Revolution, a large number of Russians fled to Manchuria, with Harbin as their unofficial capital. It gave Harbin its nickname ‘Moscow of the East’. A number of Russian buildings still survive, like the orthodox cathedral. Moreover, some Russian words entered the local dialect. The most famous one is lieba, from the Russian chljeb ‘bread’. It refers to a large round bread baked with beer yeast. This type of bread has become the symbol of Harbin cuisine.

Lieba

Watch this video for more information about the Russian influence on Harbin cuisine.

When the Japanese invaded Manchuria, they more or less let the Russians live there in peace, while the Russians accepted Japanese rule; they had no choice. In fact, for a short period, Russians, Chinese, Japanese, Koreans and several national minorities (in particular Manchus and Mongolians) lived in a peaceful coexistence in Harbin. This ethnic diversity has created an equally diverse local cuisine. Besides the afore mentioned bread, dairy products also became part of the diet of Harbin people, long before Chinese elsewhere started to appreciate the white gold. The potato, the typical staple of Western cuisine, has also grown roots in this city.

The consumption of coffee is also increasing rapidly in Harbin. Insiders report that there were more than 400 coffee shops in the city at the end of 2015, consuming about 60 mt of coffee beans per year.

Harbin Beer (better known as Hapi in China) is one of the top beer brands in China, though currently owned by Anheuser-Busch. The Harbin municipal government and Harbin Cultural Tourism Group are co-hosting the 2016 China-Harbin International Beer Festival, which will run from June 30th to July 17th at the Harbin Frozen World in Songbei district. There will be 11 beer tents, 16 food exhibition areas and four cultural exhibition areas. The total area of the beer festival is 600 thousand square meters

Agricultural region

Heilongjiang is one of the prime agricultural regions of China. The chernozem soil in Harbin, called “black earth” (Heilongjiang literally means: ‘Black Dragon River’) is one of the most nutrient rich in all of China, making it valuable for cultivating food crops. According to the municipal statistics of 2013, Harbin alone was good for more than 2% of the national grain output, 1% of the meat and 4% of dairy products.

BlackEarth

Heilongjiang is one of the major grain-producing areas in China, ensuring food security for the country. The grain output of the province reached 67.6 billion kgs in 2014, leading the country’s provinces since 2011 and accounting for one-tenth of the national total.

In recent years, the province has pushed forward agricultural modernization, promoted the green food industry and established marketing platforms for Internet Plus agriculture.

A sophisticated Internet Plus marketing platform has been established for rice products in the province. Heilongjiang rice is of high quality but used to sell poorly.

The following table shows the development of the total turnover of the Harbin food industry during the past few years.

Year Turnover(RMB bln)
2008 40
2010 50
2011 70
2012 90
2013 95

The processing of agricultural produce was still the most prominent activity in the Harbin food industry in 2013, as is shown in the following breakdown.

Activity ratio (%)
Processing of primary produce 68.0
Food production 15.3
Beverage production 8.6
Tobacco products 8.1

(tobacco is part of the food industry in Chinese statistics)

Top companies

Wondersun Dairy Industry Co., Ltd.

Wondersun is part of Heilongjiang’s biggest Agricultural State Owned Enterprise called Beidahuang Group. The company is ranked as fifth among China’s dairy enterprises and holds 7 subsidiary companies and 41 factories. Wondersun’s liquid milk ranks among the top ten in the country and was assessed as one of China’s most valuable brands in 2003. The company has formed a strong sales network that covers the whole country. Wang Jinghai, president of Wondersun, believes Heilongjiang is ideal for raising cows and producing dairy. The company is expected to sell products worth RMB 50 mln in 2015 through e-commerce channels and has set a sales goal of RMB 300 mln next year.

Heilongjiang Dairy Group Co., Ltd.

Heilongjiang Dairy Group was established in 2004, and the companies registered capital is 213 million RMB. It is one of the key national enterprises in the agricultural industry in China. The main shareholder is the Haerbin HIT group with 10 other small shareholders. The company has four brands, and the brand Longdan and Jinxing have a high reputation in the entire country.

Beidahuang Group

Beidahuang has 16 agriculture branch companies and Haolianghe Fertilizer Company. It is also the parent of Beidahuang Grains Co., Ltd., and Harbin Longken Malt Co., Ltd.. The company owns 624,000 hectares of land. The main crops are rice, soybeans, corns, wheat and brewing barley, supplemented with crops cash crops like red beans, kidney beans, pumpkin seeds, lucerne, medicinal herbs and flax. Haolianghe Fertilizer Co., Ltd. has an annual production of 200,000 mt of carbamide and other fertilizer products. Beidahuang Grains Co., Ltd. has an annual production of 1.4 million tons of refined rice and 100,000 mt of other byproducts. The yearly malt output of Harbin Longken Malt Co., Ltd. is 200,000 mt.

Harbin as gateway to China

Harbin has been on the radar of foreign investors from the beginning of China’s economic reforms.

Nestlé was one of the first Western multinationals to invest in China, with a joint venture for the production of infant formulae in Acheng, a suburb of Harbin in the 1980’s. This subsidiary of Nestlé has withstood all turbulent developments of China since then.

Nestle

Another multinational, McCain, started a potato processing venture in Harbin in 2005. The venture included a 7.5 ton/hour plant and two associated potato storage facilities. McCain Foods has been preparing for its expansion in China for a long time before it finally chose Harbin. The company stated that Heilongjiang Province produces the largest output of potatoes yearly. With its unique geological position adjacent to Russia, Harbin may prove an ideal investment location for companies who want to tap the Far East market, he said. The company decided to double its capacity in 2012.

Other foreign investors in Harbin include a yeast plant of Burns Philp. That makes sense, as bread has been part of the local cuisine for a long time. Even thought lieba is a kind of sourdough, yeast bread was easily adopted as a quicker alternative for the traditional Russian style bread. I myself have organized a number of baking seminars, when I was promoting yeast and bread improvers of Gist-brocades (now part of DSM) in China.

China has reacted quickly to cash in on the opportunities created by the trade war between Russia and the EU/US. This will be an extra large boost to the importance of Harbin as China’s northernmost foreign trade hub for food and agricultural products. Harbin’s ‘Russian’ background will certainly facilitate this development. The China Harbin International Economic and Trade Fair was renamed into Sino-Russian Expo in 2014.

The World Dairy Expo & Summit will be organised again in Harbin, april 21 – 24, 2016. The 2015 edition attracted 15,728 visitors from all over the world.

HarbinExpo

Organic and green food

Heilongjiang is China’s primary region for organic agriculture and Harbin is again a centre for this industry.

The municipal government has build a large modern food storage and distribution system for organic produce. The system includes a food logistics centre with an annual handling capacity of more than 1 mln mt, three distribution centres with a combined annual handling capacity of 1.5 mln mt and 11 grain depots each with a storage capacity of 200 000 mt.

HlGreenFood

McDonald’s sources the rice it uses on the mainland from Harbin. The city grows some of China’s top-quality rice. It has more than 600,000 hectares of paddy field producing 3.25 mln mt of rice a year as well as some 200,000 hectares of soybeans, none of it genetically engineered. It is not necessarily organic rice, but at least is produced according to China’s ‘green’ specifications.

Harbin also has annual corn output of more than 10 mln mt. The hybrid breed contains three times more protein than common breeds.

In addition to farming, the city government also invests in livestock breeding and processing. It has nearly 500,000 cows, 3 mln beef cattle and 11 mln pigs, and produces 880,000 mt of meat, 365,000 mt of eggs and 1.5 mln mt of milk a year.

The first flagship store for green food from Heilongjiang opened in Hong Kong in February 2014 offering more than 200 products. Of the 64 suppliers, 27 were based in Harbin.

Agreeable culture

Harbin is an interesting alternative to for international investors in the Chinese food and beverage industry. On top of the advantages introduced above, the people of China’s Northeast are known as easygoing and honest. The good people of Harbin are outstanding hosts, entertaining their guests with supersize dishes of fish and meat, to be washed down with lots of baijiu, traditional Chinese spirits.

HbDish

It may take a little longer to negotiate a deal. They take their time to get to know you and do not feel the urge to put on a business-like act when dealing with foreigners, as you often see in other parts of China. However, once the believe they have figured you out and the impression is positive, you are in.

Mulan – a food production centre in ‘greater Harbin’

The county of Mulan, in Harbin’s northeast, is an important site on the Silk Road Economic Belt. Its connection with Harbin has been strengthened by the completion of the Mulan-Songhuajiang Bridge.

Mulan has a population of 280,000 and covers an area of 3600 square meters. It administers six towns and eighty-six villages. There are thirty reservoirs along the Songhua River in the county and the forest coverage rate is nearly 50%. Mulan has been awarded various titles, such as “National Ecological Agricultural County”, “National Green Rice Production Base” and “National Rural Tourism Demonstration County”.

Mulan is also known for its, rice, coffee and beer. Located in the black soil area of northeast China, it enjoys distinct seasons, adequate sunlight and moderate rainfall, which contributes to the excellent quality of its crops. Hundreds of kinds of precious herbs grow in the 670,000 hectare forest and the abundant grassland feeds flocks and herds. With the improvement of agricultural infrastructure, Mulan has seen remarkable progress, especially in rice and red meat processing.

With the support of related policies and modern agriculture reform in Heilongjiang, the county has seized all opportunities to construct a grain production base, developing grain processing efficiency and funding a green food industry. It built an 8-square-meter agricultural production park to bring together various agriculture projects for cooperation.

In August, 2014, the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS) Grain Processing Technology Institute (Harbin) settled in the industrial park, the first national organization instituted by CAAS in Heilongjiang. It focuses on grain processing, product innovation and inspection services. This move inaugurates a new cooperation method between national research groups and local food industries.

In future, Mulan plans to expand the market to Russia, North Korea and Japan with the help of the Heilongjiang Silk Road Belt and, in three to five years, become the leading food research center of Northeast Asia. That development would improve Heilongjiang’s influence in the area. The government intends to pay more attention to ecological protection and sustainable development under emerging circumstances to create a better Mulan.

Eurasia Consult Food knows the Chinese food industry since 1985. Follow us on Twitter.

Eurasia Consult Consulting can help you embed your business in Chinese society.

Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975.

Food companies in China’s top 100/500

The list of the 2014 Top 500 Chinese enterprises in terms of turnover included the following food and beverage companies.

Rank Company Turnover 2013(RMB bln) Business
84 COFCO 189.05157 Food in general, see our blog on COFCO vs Nestle
94 Bright 159.38217 Dairy
165 Wahaha 78.27856 Beverages
168 New Hope 77.89271 Dairy
195 Wuliangye 63.09445 Spirits
253 Yili 47.77887 Dairy
257 Shuanghui 47.20541 Meat
299 China Salt 39.82552 Salt
307 Luzhou Laojiao 38.53574 Spirits
321 Zhengbang 36.04589 Meat, poultry
330 Wens 35.18706 Meat, poultry
337 Moutai 34.62301 Spirits
407 Qingdao 28.29098 Beer
430 Xiwang 27.12007 Corn processing
451 Weiwei 26,18069 Soybean milk
470 Daohuaxiang 24,86100 Spirits, beverages
482 Hope-Full 24,11415 Soybean processing

 

The two companies in the top 100 are both state owned enterprises that have succcessfully adapted to the new economic reality in China. Still, the second two are private enterprises.

Spirits remains the best represented type of business with four companies on this list. If we broaden the scope to alcoholic beverage in general, we can add Qingdao and COFCO (Great Wall Wine) as well, to make 6 out of 17 companies.

However, as Mengniu Dairy is now a subsidiary of COFCO, the current list also de facto comprises 4 dairy companies, 2 of which are in the top 100.

You may want to compare this list, which is based on the 2013 turnover, with the list of the Top Food Companies of 2014, which ranks the enterprises according to their estimated brand value.

Food & Beverage in China’s 2017 top brands

The 2017 China Top 100 brands have been published late May. I have extracted a sublist of the food and beverage companies in that list and simply add it to this blog, so we can compare the results with the situation of 2014. First the list.

Rank Brand Industry
6 Moutai spirits
9 Wuliangye spirits
19 Yili dairy
21 Mengniu dairy
25 Wahaha beverages
64 Chef Kang noodles
67 Shuanghui meat
73 Luzhou Laojiao spirits
74 Tsingtao Beer beer
80 Bright dairy
84 Kouzijiu spirits
85 Junlebao dairy
92 Huiyuan fruit juice
93 Changyu wine
95 Gujing Gongjiu spirits
96 Yingjia spirits
97 Daoxiangcun pastry
98 Quanjude Peking duck

Spirits stand out as the leading industry with 6 out of 18 brands in the national Top 100. Dairy is the runner up with 4. Quanjude is a restaurant chain rather than a manufacturing company, but it also markets vacuum packed ducks ready for consumption. Regular readers of the blog will recognize most of the names. Don’t hesitate to use the Search function to look for more information of each company in other posts.

Almost all companies have rising dramatically, in particular Moutai. Three years ago, only 3 F&B companies were included in China’s top 100, now 18. This corroborates what has been said about the Chinese food industry in numerous recent publications: it is rapidly becoming a pillar of the national economy.

This post concentrates on the top companies, but Eurasia Consult has a database of Chinese food & beverage producers of more than 30,000 companies.

Eurasia Consult Food knows the Chinese food industry since 1985. Follow us on Twitter.

Eurasia Consult Consulting can help you embed your business in Chinese society.

Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975.