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Sunday 22 July 2018

Irish beef exports must be cut above to break China

Demand for meat in China has quadrupled over the last 30 years. Stock image
Demand for meat in China has quadrupled over the last 30 years. Stock image

Claire Fox in Beijing

IRISH beef will have to stand out in order to break the growing Chinese ecommerce retail store market, according to Bord Bia.

In April, Ireland became the first European beef exporter in 18 years to secure access to China's fast-growing consumer market.

Yesterday, delegates on an Irish trade mission to China visited JD.com in Beijing, which is China's second largest ecommerce retailer in both transaction volume and revenue terms, and is growing fast. In 2017, its net revenues were €48bn - up 33pc on the previous year.

A spokesperson for JD.com said that at present it can deliver 99pc of its products to a customer's door within 24 hours of ordering, and 57pc of orders can be filled in six hours or less.

Those products include fresh, frozen and chilled groceries, including meat.

Bord Bia's Trade Marketing Manager based in Shanghai, Conor O'Sullivan, told the Irish Independent that for Irish beef to enter these dynamic new retail networks it will have to have offer "cuts that stand out".

"Companies like JD are most interested in products that help them stand out. There are lots of competing platforms and there's still a concern with poor quality or fakes so they're interested in bigging up the legitimacy of the product," he said.

"They're most interested in beef, they sell more beef than pork online. Around 77pc of meat sold online is beef. It's growing, and the bestselling cuts are steak cuts and brisket."

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JD has recently turned its attention to imported food as a major growth opportunity. In recent years, it has invested in shareholdings with two of China's major supermarkets, Walmart and Yonghui.

In December it opened its first high-tech grocery retail outlet, 7Fresh, which focuses on high-quality, imported food and provides another market opportunity for Irish products. The demand among well-to-do Chinese consumers is for high-quality, traceable products.

There currently only two 7Fresh outlets, but the plan is to get that number to 30 by the end of the year and to 1,000 in four years. The challenge for Irish producers is to be there as that new market opens up.

Demand for meat in China has quadrupled over the last 30 years. However, beef consumption remains relatively low at 4kg per person per year, compared to 19kg per person here.

Beef imports to China increased from under 100,000 tonnes in 2012 to around 700,000 tonnes last year and are expected to double by 2020.

Irish Independent

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