La Gula convenience offerings hit stores in China

Published on
April 22, 2012

After a showing at the China Fisheries & Seafood Expo in Qingdao last November, Spanish brand La Gula del Norte, owned by Angulas Aguinaga S.A., will soon distribute its surimi products to high-end Chinese supermarkets and restaurants.

La Gula baby eel surimi products will be sold beginning in May at City Shop and City Super outlets in Shanghai, chain stores targeting the city’s wealthier citizens, according to Miguel Molina, executive manager at TRADECO Madrid, a business consultancy promoting the La Gula brand in the Chinese market.

Twin-packs of La Gula ready-to-eat products will retail at RMB 98 in Shanghai. The products come with ingredients and olive oil already in the pack (with bilingual instructions on how to heat in the pan or microwave). They include La Gula Original Recipe (with garlic and chili), La Gula with Prawns and La Gula with Mushrooms. There’s also a La Gula Plain easy-cook option which requires additional ingredients and a one-minute stir-fry.

Reactions to the products at tastings in several Chinese cities have proven very positive, but Molina says there’s still much to learn about the Chinese market. “We need to know how to adapt recipes to China,” he said. Crucially, Molina says he’ll have to emphasise the restaurant trade until product promotion and brand education lifts retail sales. La Gula is served in the Spanish-style Restaurante Martin, set in an old colonial-era villa inside Xujiahui Park. Molina is also expecting to supply the high-end Chinese-owned Charme chain. “We’d ideally like to go through restaurant chains,” he said.

Success at the restaurant level will, however, require much education of local chefs. “Very few Chinese restaurants, for instance, cook with olive oil,” explained Molina. “People need educating.” Hence TRADECO staff will be conducting workshops; for example, a La Gula chef has conducted promotions and trainings in restaurants and supermarkets as well as point-of-sale tastings.

Given that there isn’t really anything comparable to La Gula in the Chinese market, not surprisingly the biggest challenge is educating locals who are used to fish noodles but not baby eel. However, La Gula clearly has a chance in China, where the popularity of convenience foods has surged in response to rising incomes and changing lifestyle. But much of the country’s ready meals market is accounted for by instant noodles and frozen dumplings, sold for an average RMB 5 (dried noodles) to RMB 15 (frozen packs of 20-dumplings) in mainstream Chinese supermarkets and convenience stores.

La Gula will be banking on a wealthier, health conscious market segment. E-mail marketing in China La Gula stresses health and convenience values to Chinese consumers. The La Gula product is “healthy, low fat and rich in proteins ... which makes La Gula highly recommended for sport professionals and children,” according to a La Gula e-mail which also emphasizes the “safety and quality” of its product.

La Gula may have a real trump card to play in China — its marketing links to Spanish football clubs that are popular in soccer-mad China. A La GulaTV commercial screened on Spanish TV with Real Madrid and Barcelona players Xabi Alonso and Carlos Puyol has been posted on www.youku.com, a popular local clone of video-sharing site Youtube. This, said Molina, should drum up priceless recognition for La Gula, though given a lack of online promotion hits have been slow, he conceded.

Molina will gauge interest at the annual SIAL expo of imported food in Shanghai in early May and has plans to expand sales to other cities, including westerly Xian. He also represents Galicia-based IDLC seafood firm in China. Leading Spanish seafood brands in China include Delfin, but also a good deal of imports here are packaged by Chinese importers’ brands. Spanish olive oil and wine exporters have been capturing market share in China.

“We usually work with olive oil, ham and wine. Chinese consumers know these. This [La Gula] is one they don’t know about at all. But once they try it they like it because it’s fish,” said Molina.

“We think we will be very successful,” he added.

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