Want fresh seafood by air mail? Foreign firms can now tap on hungry Chinese market

Thai seafood producer and US fruit grower sign up to sell via Tmall as Chinese e-commerce giant taps into strong demand for fresh food quickly delivered

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 June, 2017, 1:07pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 June, 2017, 11:18pm

Three years ago when Canada wanted to tap on China’s massive market of seafood-loving gourmets, its prime minister asked Alibaba for help.

In response, the Chinese e-commerce giant put out Canadian lobsters for sale during the annual “Single’s Day” online shopping festival.

The runaway success of Canada’s lobster sales, fuelled by the voracious appetite from China’s massive population, pushed Alibaba to expand into fresh product sales with their newest get: fresh seafood and fruit.

Seafood producer Thai Union Group and US fruit grower Driscoll’s have agreed to sell their products on the company’s Tmall online platform in a new test of its ability to deliver fresh produce.

A company as an economy? Alibaba says it can be world’s fifth-largest by 2036

The agreement was announced at the Gateway 17 event, where Alibaba chairman Jack Ma spoke about how the company’s position as a global e-commerce platform would be strengthened if it could overcome difficulties involved in shipping food products to Chinese consumers within three days of their harvesting.

“If we can handle fresh fruit and seafood, then learning to handle all the other kinds of imports becomes easy, relatively easy”, Ma said. “China has a large population and a relatively small amount of land. If such a large population wants to eat well we need to learn how to import.”

Ma also cited another example of how Alibaba had a taste of success in tapping in fresh produce e-commerce.

“The first time we helped the American farmers selling the Washington state cherries was funny because the US embassy to China came to us and said, can you help us sell the cherries?

“We said yeah, so we placed the orders online and the cherries still on the trees. When we got the orders, people start to pick up the cherries and deliver. Within 72 hours, cherries were picked, sent to China, distribute to 80,000 families.

Jack Ma: Asia has ‘chance to win’ in emerging era of super machines

“And the funny thing is we got a lot of complaints next few days. The complaint was, such great cherries, such great price, why we cannot buy them, so they want to buy more.”

This rosy picture of the China market is a vision Ma is pushing to his US audience at the Gateway 17 event.

The event, the first of its kind for Alibaba, was organised to help small- and medium-sized US companies learn how to sell their products on the company’s e-commerce platforms. It came after Ma promised US President Donald Trump he would create 1 million jobs in the United States.

“So I think the demand is huge when you’ve got 1.4 billion people. You probably cannot, you only have 300 million people. 1.4, oh my God, that’s a lot of people,” Ma said.

“The Chinese market opportunity for fresh, American grown produce is tremendous and we believe Alibaba allows us to expand consumer access to our berries, and we’ll be able to take full advantage of that opportunity,” said Jae Chun, Driscoll’s vice-president and general manager for China, in a joint statement.

US has failed to spread benefits of globalisation, Jack Ma tells Davos

The California-based grower is a major producer of strawberries and raspberries, among others. It already sells its products in China through a joint venture with an Australian firm, and also grows blueberries and raspberries at a farm in the southwestern Yunnan province.

Thai Union’s brands include Chicken of the Sea in the US and John West in the UK.

“Chinese consumers are increasingly discerning and demanding, putting a premium on safety and quality when shopping for fresh and chilled seafood, such as lobster, shrimp and salmon,” said Faisal Sheikh, the company’s managing director for emerging markets, in the statement.

Additional reporting by Sarah Zheng