Frozen seafood taps China demand for convenience

Published on
August 11, 2013

One of China’s most venerable dim sum restaurant chains is tapping into twin growing demands for convenience food as well as growing acceptance of frozen seafood in mainland China by launching its own line of packaged seafood distributed through mainland supermarket chains.

Attractively packaged frozen packs of Bi Feng Tang’s dim sum special, steamed shrimp meat and corn (known as shaomai in Chinese) sells in the frozen sections of Carrefour and Ito Yokado supermarkets in Beijing. The 10-piece box sells for CNY 22.80 (USD 3.72, EUR 2.80) and is popular among younger customers, supermarket staff at Ito Yokado told SeafoodSource. A similar sized serving of the barrel-shaped shaomai typically costs CNY 50 (USD 8.17, EUR 6.14) at Beijing's Cantonese restaurants.

Processed at a factory in the Minhang industrial estate near Shanghai, the products are perhaps the most sophisticated examples of a trend to frozen and convenience-oriented seafood products in Chinese grocery outlets. Mainland Chinese firms like shrimp exporter Guolian have been tapping local demand with seafood-oriented versions of frozen dumplings, a low-cost and better known mainland Chinese convenience favorite. Dumplings are preferred among middle-aged and older customers, explained Ito Yokado staff.

Rich in seafood, Cantonese cuisine (originating in Hong Kong and adjacent mainland province of Guangdong) has by contrast been seen as a more upscale type of cuisine in cities like Beijing.

Bi Feng Tang will be betting that its restaurant chain’s familiarity among Chinese urban consumers will draw customers to its range of frozen convenience offerings. With at least 13 branches in Shanghai, a Bi Feng Tang (Be for Time) serves Cantonese specialities like dim sum (dianxin in Mandarin), with shrimp dumplings and shrimp rolls among the offerings.

Staff at a Bi Feng Tang outlet said sales of its packaged dimsum are “booming.”

Bi Feng Tang isn’t the only firm whetting China’s appetite for frozen-packed convenience seafood snacks. From Singapore, convenience foods specialist Tee Yih Jia has tapped into the growth of China to sell seafood-themed ready meals: its Spring Home brand sells “prawn hargow” — a Singaporean dimsum specialty — as well as shaomai in Chinese supermarkets. Priced CNY 27 (USD 4.41, EUR 3.32), the 160-gram frozen packaged servings of hargow can be heated and served in 10 minutes. Tee Yih Jia has manufacturing facilities in China’s Jiangsu and Fujian provinces and has been backed by “Tasty Singapore” — a Singaporean government initiative designed to help food firms to expand overseas.

Bi Feng Tang products are currently distributed through supermarket and supermarket chains like Carrefour, Tesco, Auchan, RT-Mart, Lotus and Lianhua. The company also exports to North America, Australia and Japan.

Brands like Bi Feng Tang and Tee Yih Jia are drawn to continued growth in China's urban incomes, with per capita disposable income increasing 9.6 percent percent in 2012 to CNY 24,565 (USD 4,012/EUR 3,016) — that’s 1.2 percent more than the growth seen in 2011, and puts incomes well ahead of rural counterparts which made an average CNY 7,917 (USD 1,293/EUR 973) last year.

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