COVID-19 fears driving medicinal interest, demand for sea cucumbers in China

Published on
February 4, 2021

New Zealand Wild Catch Limited has reached an agreement with leading Chinese traditional medicine retailer Beijing Tongrentang for exclusive sales of dried and instant sea cucumber in New Zealand. One of the largest global retailers of traditional Chinese medicine, Beijing Tongrentang has eight stores in Auckland, New Zealand.

Chinese buyers are using sea cucumber as a home remedy to prevent infection from COVID-19, New Zealand Wild Catch Limited Co-Founder and CEO James Parfitt told SeafoodSource. The firm sells the gold tip sea cucumber (Stichopus mollis), which is native to New Zealand waters, under the Gold Tip brand.

“After a brief stop in sales in March, April 2020 Gold Tip sales have been very strong since the COVID outbreak, given the immune benefits of regular consumption of sea cucumber,” Parfitt said. “But there is still room to grow by increasing harvest and processing in New Zealand and distribution capacity in China.”

Parfitt said his brand has thrived during the pandemic due to Chinese customers’ trust in the company’s wild products and the company’s policy of not using additives. Additionally, a study performed by researchers at Auckland University showed the company’s products’ bioactives compared favorably with farmed Chinese sea cucumber, Parfitt aid.

“Trade … is going well into formal offline channels in China,” Parfitt said. “The New Zealand government has been very supportive and engaging since the COVID outbreak, meaning airfreight disruptions have been minimized.” 

Parfitt said his firm is still looking for one or two retail distributors in China “who fit with our channel strategy.” He’s also hoping to secure support from Beijing Tongrentang’s affiliates in Southeast Asia “once travel opens up and we can meet face-to-face.” The company has plans to expand sales in Japan and Singapore as well.

But Parfitt said he’s encountering efforts to counterfeit his brand in many of his markets.

“There are still fake gold tip sea cucumber from Indonesia claiming to be New Zealand gold tip, as well as cheaper shallow-water black tip sea eggplant in New Zealand,” he said. “But the encouraging thing for us is that consumers are starting to realize that irregular shape of gold tip is a good way to tell wild from farmed sea cucumber. We are seeing in the COVID climate repeat customers placing more value in function and health benefits rather than form and uniformity.”

Sea cucumber prices in China rose year-on-year in 2020 and have remained strong, according to Djames Lim, CEO of the Lim Shrimp Organisation, which has been building a large indoor sea cucumber farming facility in northern China.

“We plan to restart remaining construction after the winter season,” he told SeafoodSource.

COVID is restricting produce from being imported smoothly into China, complicating his company’s business, Lim said.

Photo courtesy of New Zealand Wild Catch Limited

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