China’s seafood market scene shifting as customers demand better hygiene

Yet another of China’s big city seafood markets has closed, to be replaced by a real estate gentrification project.

The Dong Men seafood market in Shenzhen is emptying out this week, as state-owned property developer China Resources Land will build a 1.5-million-square-meter development of mall, offices, and apartments in the place of what was one of the country’s busiest seafood markets.

The Dong Men seafood market in Luohu district will close after nearly 40 years, following the fate of similar markets in both Shanghai and Zhengzhou that have also closed to make way for real estate development in the past year.

A statement from Shenzen’s government carried in local newspapers described the market as suffering from poor sewage connections and lacking parking facilities.

“It had begun to sell shoddy goods,” the statement said of the Dong Men market.

Keen to cash in on the sale as well as the taxes to be raised from commercial properties to be built on the site, city governments, who ultimately control the land, have been targeting downtown seafood markets for replacement, given their occupation of prime downtown real estate.

The future of big-market retailing looks to be taking shape in new formats, like the giant suburban “Welcome” complex, a sprawling wholesale market selling meat and seafood on the outskirts of Jinan Province in the key seafood producing province of Shandong. The Jinan Wei Er Kang Group, which operates the market, claims its sales increased to CNY 2.6 billion (USD 364 million, EUR 336.5 million) in the first 11 months of 2019, from CNY 1.2 billion (USD 128 million, EUR 155.3 million) in 2018.

At the higher end of the market, China’s seafood sector has been upended by a new generation of retailers emphasizing traceability, food safety, and hygiene. One of the leaders in this category is Hema Xiansheng (the name translates roughly as “boxed/packaged freshness and liveliness”), which is controlled by the Alibaba online commerce group. Hema recently launched an online mascot featuring a smiley “Tony the aproned seafood salesman” with scissors in hand.

Another reason Chinese customers are turning away from traditional wet markets and toward more mainstream retail is confidence on pricing. Chinese consumers have long complained of a commonplace ruse in wet markets of weighing both the water and the fish.

Photo courtesy of Sorbis/Shutterstock


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