International canners making a play for China’s middle class

Published on
May 9, 2018

International canners are making a play for China’s middle class with offerings of products that cast sardines and tuna as healthy dining options.

One of the players is Malaysia-based Tropical Group, which has launched its “Xiao Pangzi” (literally translated from Mandarin as “Little Fatty”) range as a localization of its TC Boy brand of canned fish. The tuna with olives (CNY 19.90 [USD 3.12, EUR 2.63] for 180-gram cans) product is marketed as “deep-sea, wild tuna” and as a health food with serving suggestions for salads and sandwiches. A 150-gram can of sardines, selling for CNY 9.90 (USD 1.55, EUR 1.31), is likewise marketed as an input for healthy salads, with serving details provided on the company’s Chinese language website.   

Canned seafood has traditionally been viewed as a lower-end product in China, where much seafood is sold live from fish tanks in order to prove freshness. However, a younger, more urban population is prioritizing convenience over freshness. Produced by leading Filipino food processor CDO Foodsphere, “San Marino Corned Tuna” markets its cans on Chinese online retailers JD.com and Tmall as rich in omega-3 DHA, and as beneficial for heart and brain health. The company’s 180-gram cans sell at CNY 14.90 (USD 2.34, EUR 1.97) each on JD.com. 

Likewise, the Spanish “Calvo” brand, run by the Luis Calvo Sanz SA firm, in Galicia, is selling a 320-gram pack of cans for CNY 45.90 (USD 7.20, EUR 6.07) on Tmall, one of China’s leading online retailers. The Calvo tuna is marketed on the site as “high-quality” meat for home meals. 

There is clearly a lot to play for given the growing scale of China’s middle classes. China’s Ministry of Commerce calculates that 400 million of China’s 1.4 billion people are now considered middle class. The ministry also revealed, in data released in March, that Chinese nationals are spending USD 200 billion (EUR 169 billion) on shopping overseas, in part because of perceptions that international products are of better quality.

However there are obvious sustainability questions prompted by a major expansion in Chinese consumption. CDO Foodsphere Inc. was one of numerous firms in the region to get a “poor” rating in a Greenpeace ranking of industry players. Greenpeace ranked producers by the sustainability of their sourcing and production practices. 

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