Chinese seafood companies push into high-end retail

Two of China’s biggest seafood brands have opened high-end seafood concept stores recently, the latest sign of firms here shifting from seafood production to sourcing and marketing imported seafood as well as value-added domestic products.

The most ambitious opening saw shellfish specialist Zhangzidao Group (also known as Zoneco) open a high-end shop and dining facility in the central city of Wuhan, as part of a joint venture with WuShang, a powerful real estate conglomerate in the city.

Meanwhile, shrimp specialist Zhanjiang Guolian Aquatic Group opened a large store in its home base of Zhanjiang city, and while the store isn’t located in an upscale mall like the Zhangzidao outlet, it shares many of the same features. The emphasis in both is on imported seafood which can be eaten in-store or taken out.

Both stores offer Ecuadorian Vannemei and Argentinean red shrimp as well as New Zealand mussels. But Zhangzidao puts an emphasis on Canadian lobsters, Russian king crab and salmon from Chile and Norway. Zhangzidao’s own abalone, scallops and sea cucumbers are on sale in its store while the Guolian store offers a wide range of Guolian frozen, packaged products.

The stores are clearly part of the effort by China’s largest seafood companies to move up the value chain – until now, both companies had operated nothing more than small kiosks featuring only domestic products. The Guolian shop opening is part of that company’s “global selection strategy,” CEO Li Zhong told a large local media presence invited to the opening. Large freezers of Guolian shrimp products also awaited punters entering the store, alongside a giant new rendering of Guolian’s logo, featuring a stylised fish leaping onto a plate.

Zhangzidao has used its “Zoneco” brand name in English in the new store in Wuhan, but packaging in the store carries the Zhangzidao name in Chinese. Large screens in the Guolian store urge visitors to go to the company’s website where further purchases are possible. Online shopping has also become a priority for Zhangzidao though that element of its business wasn’t pushed during the glitzy opening event in Wuhan – unsurprising given its partner WuShang is a traditional mall builder and operator.

Both Wuhan and Zhanjiang are effectively second-tier cities in China, but both have enjoyed strong economic growth in recent years. The new openings, both in the run up to the recent mid-Autumn festival – a major consumption period for seafood along with next month’s National Day celebrations – will no doubt be watched by other seafood firms in China. Many of the country’s seafood firms, such as sea cucumber specialist Shandong Homey, have opened stores across China, but these are very basic compared to the new Guolian and Zhangzidao stores.

Both Guolian and Zhangzidao started out as aquaculture operations, focusing on exports before exploring China’s growing domestic market. Both have come up with branded, packaged seafood products and while Zhangzidao, the larger of the two in capitalization terms, was first to stress the potential profit margins in imported seafood, Guolian has also joined the fray with its new shop opening.


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