By Mark Godfrey, SeafoodSource contributing editor reporting from Beijing, China
Published on 09 October, 2012
With crab season in full swing across China, vendors of the country’s famous Yangcheng crabs have used giveaways of high-tech gadgets to entice big-ticket customers. “Spend RMB 29,999 and get an iPad3, spend RMB 49,999 and get an iPhone4S for free” is an offer made by crab trader Yangcheng Pin Shang Pin to entice buyers. Splashed in half-page adverts across several Beijing daily newspapers, the firm’s offer says much about gift-giving and sales strategies employed by Chinese aquatic produce brands.
Marketed as a seasonal delicacy, Yangcheng Pin Shang Pin’s mitten crabs come from Yangcheng Lake. This freshwater lake is outside Suzhou in the wealthy Jiangsu Province, a two-hour drive south of Shanghai. The crabs are harvested as they migrate toward the Yangtze River delta for mating in late September.
Jiangsu Gou Wu, another crab vendor advertising in the Xin Jing Bao (English name The Beijing Times), a Beijing daily tabloid, offered customers a Samsung P6800 Galaxy tablet for every RMB 31,888 spent, or a N800 Galaxy Note for a RMB 51,888 spend. The firm’s box of four 200 gram male crabs sells for RMB 398, while four 150 gram female crabs sell at the same price, with orders accepted over the phone and delivered free of charge within Beijing. Customers unable to spend enough for a free Samsung gadget were offered three free crabs for every 10 boxes purchased.
Apple has enjoyed enthusiastic demand for its products in China, where iPhones and iPads convey social status in a gadget-crazy population. Other crab producers have avoided the sales ploy, however, concentrating instead on the veracity of their product. Several reports on China Central TV’s CCTV2 business news channel in late September focused on crab farmers, located in regions far from the Yangcheng Lake, falsely using the Yangcheng name to charge higher prices.
In response the Yangcheng Lake Crab Industry Association, the Suzhou Yangcheng Hu Crab Group and the Gong Yin Food China Store partnered to offer (from 22 to 30 September) customers a chance, for RMB 99 per crab, “to taste the real Yangcheng crab." The offer is limited to 10 crabs per customer. Customers who buy five or more crabs got vinegar, ginger tea and a three-piece set of utensils as well as a DVD about the "culture of crabs."
As a delicacy, the crabs have become a favorite gift sought out by business associates and government officials. Frank Liu, a sales manager for a Japanese optical equipment maker, explained how he spent RMB 50,000 on Yangcheng crabs for government officials he depends on to expedite import licenses.
Despite the Autumn dash for their produce, Jiangsu crab farmers complain of tight margins even as demand surges. Writing in the influential daily Global Times newspaper, economist Ding Hongfeng believes tight margins are down to the fragmentation of production and says crab farmers need to come together to benefit from buying power for feed and equipment, not to mention demanding a “fair share” from buyers.
Certainly, prices for Yangcheng crab vary wildly in Beijing. The Ritz Carlton Beijing offers Yangcheng hairy crabs until the end of November at its two restaurants, Qi and the Italian-style Cepe, with prices ranging from RMB 288 to RMB 750. Locals meanwhile will be happy to have an affordable option to enjoy crab season
Walmart outlets in Beijing have gotten in on the act, with store front displays in several outlets selling crabs for RMB 40 each. Their hairy legs bound with string and lined up on a bed of fake green grass, the crabs are “definitely from Yangcheng,” explained sales staff at Walmart’s branch in the Wanda Centre in downtown Beijing.