Metro’s popularity growing in Shanghai

Published on
May 29, 2012

Delineation of China’s seafood-consuming income brackets is surprisingly easy during an hour at the fish counter at a Metro store in Shanghai.

Price-sensitive and picky, retired post office workers Mr. and Mrs. Zhang buy silver crucian carp for RMB 6 per 500 grams on Wednesday and hope to choose between bream (RMB 7.99 per “jin,” or 500 grams) and grass carp (RMB 7) if the prices remain the same when they return Saturday to the massive store on Longyang Road, an easterly suburb of China’s richest city.

For special occasions, the Zhangs will buy yellow croaker (RMB 26.80 or RMB 22.80. “We buy that about every couple of months,” said Mr. Zhang, who said the couple’s combined pension comes to less than RMB 3,000 a month. They’ve also considered trying baby sharks (RMB 9.61 per 500 grams) and Pacific saury (RMB 8.99 for a similar measure). 

“We’d only buy fresh; that’s what we’re used to,” said the couple. Despite the long walk across the 2,000-square-meter store, they like the spacious layout and clear labeling at German-owned Metro, which caters to the wholesale trade but also accepts walk-in customers. “The fish markets are chaotic and harder to get to by comparison,” he added.

The higher-end offerings here include golden pomfret (RMB 34.99) or Reeves shad and red drum at RMB 39.99 and RMB 37.80, respectively (all prices are for 500 grams). Other pricier offerings include big pomfret (RMB 38.80 and grouper (RMB 35.80), while salmon sells for RMB 36.80. Discounts apply for trade customers. 

One of them, restaurateur Jerry Chan, said he opts for Metro when supplies run dry at his two restaurants in the downtown neighborhoods of People’s Square and Nanjing Lu, both considered pricey. 

“You know what you get, and the subway connection means you can time the length it’ll take staff. It’s not that Metro is as cheap as its reputation as a wholesale kind of place suggests,” he said.

Chan also purchases East Sea squid and calamari squid for RMB 24.99 and RMB 11.80, respectively, per 500 grams. He said he plans to purchase Metro’s only fresh lobster offering (domestically produced according to staff), priced at RMB 68 per 500 grams. 

“We do some private catering, and your quality’s got to be good, as Shanghai’s a cosmopolitan kind of place, with people who’d know the difference,” explained Chan.

This journalist has often found it very hard to interview seafood restaurateurs in Chinese cities about their seafood supply chains, in particular with regard to premium-styled offerings like sea bass, popular at international-style eateries in particular. Attendants at the fish counter said Metro is popular with local restaurateurs who buy frozen fillets in particular “because they’re cheap and very convenient.” Demand for cod, sea bass and halibut are all strong among the trade, said Chan. As China’s most cosmopolitan city, Shanghai has mainland China’s most varied restaurant scene, with Western-style restaurants regularly charging prices comparable with New York and Hong Kong.

Sold under its Star Farm and Horega brands are 2-kilogram boxes of frozen tilapia fillets (RMB 130) as well as red fish (RMB 138), Pacific cod (RMB 178) sea bass (RMB 218) and 2-kilogram boxes of frozen halibut fillets for RMB 238. Also weighing 2 kilograms, salmon fillets (from Denmark) sell for RMB 260 from the freezer. Metro uses the Star Farm brand in China as well as Horega, which is presented as a European-style, premium store brand.

Established in 1964, Dusseldorf-based Metro AG has the largest market share in its home market and ranks as the world’s fourth-largest retailer as measured by revenues, following Walmart, Carrefour and Tesco. The company has marked China and India as key sources of revenue growth up to 2020. Metro had opened 52 outlets in 37 mainland Chinese cities through the end of 2011.

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