Retailers, processors set for Chinese New Year

Published on
January 5, 2012

Editor’s note: SeafoodSource Contributing Editor Mark Godfrey reports from Xiamen, China, this week. 

As Chinese consumers become increasingly prosperous, they’re travelling more. And as Chinese New Year, the busiest travel period of the year, approaches, savvy Chinese seafood retailers and processors are capitalizing on festive demand to drive sales among travelers.

In the prosperous south coast city of Xiamen, a key seafood-processing and consumption area, major retailers are hawking elaborately packaged seafood as an ideal gift for China’s biggest holiday.  

Across the road from the city’s heaving train station, a WalMart outlet stocks gift boxes and packages produced by Nature Family, a Xiamen firm whose dried products are plastered with “Natural Seafood Product” in Mandarin. The firm’s packs of dried fish are priced to fit every pocket. Yet staff at the company, based in the south coast city of Putian, were unable to define exactly how the firm is natural or organic and the firm’s packaging bears none of the two Chinese government-recognized logos for organic product.

While dried seafood is in demand year-round, production spikes in the run-up to Chinese New Year, explained a Nature Family saleswoman surnamed Zheng, adding that the company in late spring will also trade fresh seafood. Nature Family ships to Hong Kong and sells cuttlefish in Japan. The firm dries both farmed and wild-caught product, claimed Zheng.

Rice, red wine and exotic fruits are traditional seasonal gifts given between family and business partners in the run-up to the Chinese New Year, also known as Spring Festival, the biggest gift-giving occasion of the year.  

Prices vary significantly: 200-gram packs of dried squid and eel sell for between RMB 30 and RMB 60. Locally produced fresh squid sells for between RMB 14.80 and RMB 22.80 per 500 grams, the higher price charged on larger pieces. In bright red packaging — red being the color associated with fortune and celebration in China — the products are intended to be gifted to family members, friends and business associates, said staff at Carrefour on Zhongshan Lu, a busy commercial area in Xiamen.

Both Carrefour and WalMart outlets visited stack the seasonal dry seafood offerings prominently, near the main entrance to the store. In the wet part of the supermarket, staff in white suits and wellingtons sell live seafood from tanks while frozen shrimp and carp are also available.

There’s some evidence to suggest demand for packaged, dried seafood is no longer restricted to coastal cities like Xiamen, where seafood is consumed locally. Demand for dried seafood is up, according to suppliers to the Xiamen supermarkets we visited.

Supplying to local WalMart stores, Xiamen Wofan Co. sells variously priced “Sea Treasure” themed collections of exotic products like sea horses and star fish, packed in individual pouches and sold in large red 500-gram packets for RMB 98. When contacted staff at the company, which also sells dried squid and eel, said they were too busy to discuss distribution or performance but said that a distribution contract with Wal-Mart meant its dried seafood products were selling nationwide.  

In Carrefour, Shuang Fu Food packets of dried, shredded squid are a 150-gram snack. A sales manager surnamed Bai said staff have “been up till 3 a.m.” in recent weeks trying to meet Spring Festival demand. Shuang Fu sources wild-caught and farmed product locally, which it then distributes through supermarket chains nationwide. It sells bulk product to Japan.

“We only do dried fish because it’s easy to handle and package; fresh product is too much trouble,” said the sales manager.

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