China's top think tank reported yesterday that the country's economy is projected to grow 9.8 percent in 2008 and just 9.3 percent in 2009, compared to more than 10 percent in each of the past five years. It's a stark reminder that even the world's fourth-largest economy, which has experienced explosive growth over the past three decades, isn't immune to the ongoing global economic crisis.
Though manufacturing is slowing in China, seafood consumption there is rising, thanks to the country's growing middle class, especially in urban areas such as Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen.
According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report released last week, Chinese seafood imports reached $3.5 billion last year, up from $3.2 billion in 2006 and $2.9 billion in 2005. And as SeafoodSource contributor Keith Crane reported from China's Guangdong province earlier this week, Chinese seafood imports in the first three quarters of this year approached $4.2 billion, up 13.5 percent from the same nine-month period in 2007.
Despite the global economic crisis, China remains a hot seafood export market. Chinese consumers spend more than one-third of their disposable income on food. Compare that to Americans, who spend less than 10 percent of their disposable income on food. Additionally, Chinese consumers generally regard imported food as safe and high in quality, according to the USDA. The same can't be said of the United States, where consumers are concerned about the safety of imported food - or at least say they're concerned.
What's more, personal ownership of refrigerators, freezers and microwaves, appliances Americans take for granted, is soaring in China, opening the market for frozen and ready-to-heat seafood products.
However, introducing new seafood products in China is challenging. Tastes vary vastly from region to region and are constantly evolving. "Consumers are willing to experiment with new tastes, [but] it is difficult to predict what products will succeed without conducting actual research," advises the USDA. "In a country the size of China [1.3 billion people, 3.7 million square miles], it is absolutely critical to identify a specific target group of consumers and confirm the product's appeal to that group. Failure to take the preferences of Chinese consumers into account is a common reason for the failure of new products."