By Mark Godfrey, SeafoodSource contributing editor reporting from Beijing, China
Published on 27 February, 2013
The several million readers of Beijing’s most popular morning paper, Xin Jing Bao, will have become very familiar the past months with two firms aggressively advertising organic seafood.
Zhongnong SeeSang Agricultural Development (Beijing) Co and Beijing Organic and Beyond Corporation (BOBC) both took half page ads in the tabloid-sized Xin Jing Bao on a daily basis over the past month to promote gift boxes of organic-themed seafood.
Stressing the companies’ imported seafood offerings, the ads were timed to cash in on the gift-giving tradition during the Chinese New Year celebrations, which ended Sunday with the Lantern Festival. Both firms are members of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), and carry the IFOAM logo on their packaging and websites.
Judging by prices the ad campaign is aimed at affluent consumers in Beijing, where legitimately organic seafood is difficult to find in local wet markets and supermarkets. Seesang’s cheapest box is priced at RMB 598 (USD 96, EUR 73.09), almost a third of a monthly industrial wage in Beijing and includes: a 500-gram serving of sole fish from Vietnam, a 500-gram portion of crab leg meat from Korea, 500 grams of green mussel from New Zealand and Spanish red shrimp (500 grams). SeeSang (the firm’s Chinese name, Xian Xiang, translates as “Fresh, Enjoy”) joined IFOAM in May 2011 and imports seafood and wine while also producing grains and vegetables on four bases in China. The firm also farms crabs at famous Yang Chenghu lake, synonymous with Chinese premium crabs.
SeeSang’s RMB 1,280 (USD 205.48, EUR 156.45) option, meanwhile, adds bonuses like 500 grams of Canadian Golden Scallop and Vietnamese sole. There’s also Spanish red shrimp, and six Singaporean comb shells. For RMB 3,280 (USD 526.54, EUR 400.90) members get extras like Malaysian spotted garoupa (grouper) and 600 grams of Boston lobster in their box.
A SeeSang staff member explained by phone that customers can order online from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with products delivered the next day. “But customers also have to order more than RMB 300 (USD 48.16, EUR 36.67) worth of products, and you can only order by telephone.” The firm has no bricks-and-mortar stores. “Apart from Chinese New Year, our other busy period is when we sell Yang Chenghu Lake Crab, from August to October,” said the staff member.
Claiming to deliver regularly to 200,000 families, BOBC also offers a rechargeable "gift-card" service allowing customers to choose cards priced RMB 50,000 (USD 8,026.46, EUR 6,111.31), RMB 20,000 (USD 3,210.59, EUR 2,444.98) and RMB 10,000 (USD 1,605.27, EUR 1,222.49) which can then be used to buy organic seafood packages. Delivery is free within the city limits of Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Hangzhou and Guangzhou, Shenzhen.
Available from 1 February to 20 March, a RMB 4,998 (USD 802.31, EUR 611) package includes 1,200-gram portions of king crab and 1,400 grams of Dungeness crab; 1000 grams of snow crab as well as 1,000 grams of Alaska Codfish and a similar portion of Norwegian salmon. A RMB 1,998 (USD 320.73, EUR 244.25) gift box includes 1200 grams of king crab; 700 grams of Dungeness crab; 250 grams of Emishi scallops and 500 grams of Alaska Codfish. BOBC — which also markets organic rice, pistachio nuts and tea — also offers RMB 598 (USD 95.99, EUR 73.12) and RMB 898 (USD 144.15, EUR 109.80) seafood options.
SeeSang encourages customers to register on the firm’s website to become members, who can then buy products from their website at a membership price. A staff member at the firm’s Beijing head office explained: “Currently we only sell fresh foods to Beijing customers. All our seafood is imported, frozen. After the customers buy seafood cards on the website, they have to call to ask for a delivery time. Usually the seafood would be delivered in three days … we have our own delivery department.”
SeeSang charges a minimal delivery fee but won’t deliver further than 20 kilometers outside the Beijing fifth ring. Unlike other organic retailers like BOBC, SeeSang also has actual stores — 14 of them in Beijing, including in some of the city’s most high-end retails addresses, such as Oriental Plaza mall in Wangfujing and the Yansha Youyi Shopping City.
Others have gone down the organic route. Benlai Shenghuo (http://www.benlai.com/ ) markets yellow croaker farmed in Nan Ji Dao Island, a nature reserve in Zhejiang province. The yellow croaker has 3 weight types for customers to choose: 400-500 grams costs RMB 88 (USD 14.12, EUR 10.76); 500-600 grams costs RMB 128 (USD 20.55, EUR 15.65); and 750 grams costs RMB 250 (USD 40.13, EUR 30.57).
Established only in 2011, SeeSang clearly has ambitions, with CEO Li Maocang telling a local financial news portal that he plans to float the firm — which he set up with registered capital of RMB 2 million (USD 321,043, EUR 244,551) — on the Chinese stock market in 2018.
According to the Beijing Administration for Industry and Commerce, established in 2007 by Zhang Xiangdong as: Beijing Organic and Beyond Corporation (BOBC) with registered capital of RMB 20 million (USD 3.2 million, EUR 2.4 million). Last Autumn Zhang and company president Dr.Jianwei Zhang visited the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) in Seattle as well as the US offices of MSC to discuss sustainable seafood.