Malaysia is taking a novel approach to driving consumption of the country’s seafood products in China. The country’s trade promotion board is funding a promotional campaign in China to drive Chinese consumers into Malaysian-style restaurants and to increase consumption of food and seafood imported to China, which slipped last year. China's seafood imports from Malaysia in 2012 amounted to USD 25.2 million (EUR 19.4 million), a decline of 14.8 percent as compared to USD 29.6 million (EUR 22.7 million) registered in 2011.
Titled “Malaysia Kitchen,” the campaign is run by the Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation (MATRADE), an agency under the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) tasked with promoting Malaysia's exports.
Speaking to Seafoodsource, MATRADE Senior Trade Commissioner in Beijing Abu Bakar Yusof said the objective of the campaign is “To increase the patronage of Malaysia’s restaurants operating in China as well as to increase the availability of Malaysia’s processed food, food ingredients and agricultural produce in China.”
Despite the slowdown, says Abu Bakar, “There is a growing interest by Malaysian suppliers of seafood to enter China market, targeting niche market of medium and high end segment.” Based on China's statistics, China's imports of food and beverage products (excluding palm oil) from Malaysia are on the rise, stresses Abu Bakar. For the period of 2010-2012, China's imports rose on an annual average growth of 16.7 percent to reach USD 348.7 million (EUR 267.6 million), as compared to USD 262.8 million (EUR 201.7 million) in 2010.
A document circulated by MATRADE in 2011 to Malaysian seafood companies describes the growth potential in China and pointed to demand for lobster, hump head wrasse, cobia, tiger shrimp and tiger crab, among other species. It also noted improving logistics facilities and consumer demand: “Hotels or restaurants which do not offer seafood menus would be considered as low end.”
Seafood options are plentiful in nearly a dozen Malaysian style restaurants in Beijing. In the Olive Mall in the city’s Wangjing district, the Little Nyonya serves curry prawns which are also quite sweet, made with a tomato-based mixture and caramelized onions. Malaysian hokkein mee includes a sprinkling of squid and shrimp. Inputs in the restaurants are not always Malaysian, however, concedes Abu Bakar. “We encourage restaurants to use ingredients from Malaysia but it depends on price … particularly in beef and shrimp imports it’s more cost effective to buy locally.”
The Malaysian Kitchen campaign has also generated plenty of media attention. An advertisement in the local edition of Time Out explains the campaign is about “creating demand for Malaysian cuisine through an integrated, holistic and multi-pronged promotion program in collaboration with restaurant operators.” Abu Bakar says the media coverage has been “very effective” in drawing customers to Malaysian restaurants “while also promoting Malaysia overall.” Aside from restaurants, the campaign has extended to hypermarkets, including the Malaysian-owned Parkson chain in China, with tastings and in-store cooking demonstrations.
A free trade agreement between China and ASEAN (of which Malaysia is a member) helps ensure higher yields for Malaysian imports to China, explains Abu Bakar. He believes the slowdown of seafood imports last year can be partially attributed to a slowdown of China's overall imports of seafood. “In 2012, China's imports of seafood declined by 1.7 percent compared to the previous year to reach USD 5.5 billion (EUR 4.2 billion). In particular, one of main seafood exports from Malaysia was squid which declined but other main exports such as shrimps and fish increased. China's imports of squid from Malaysia last year decreased by 11.4 percent compared to 2011. Likewise, China's global imports of squid also dropped by nearly 18 percent last year.”