COFFEE importer and supplier Tsit Wing Group has earmarked $20 million to gain a foothold in China. Chairman Wong Sek-fook said his company had held talks with potential partners in China in the past six months for joint ventures in both retail operations and production plants. He said Tsit Wing was keen to penetrate the mainland market because of the rising economy and living standards in China. ''I cannot think of a coffee market in the world that has bigger potential than China,'' he said. ''With a population of more than 1.1 billion, double-digit growth in income and a keen interest to improve living standards, coffee consumption is expected to grow significantly in coming years. ''The overwhelming success of various hotel and fast food chains in China will also spread the habit of drinking coffee to hundreds of millions of Chinese people.'' According to Mr Wong, Tsit Wing supplies more than 70 per cent of the coffee for the catering industry in Hongkong, including hotels, fast food chains and coffee shops. He said fast food chains Fairwood Holdings and Cafe de Coral Holdings were both Tsit Wing customers, and their outlets in China had boosted demand for its coffee. Tsit Wing operations and finance director Alex Wong Tat-pui said the company was looking to set up plants and retail operations in major cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. He said the first retail outlet would open for business in Nanjing East Road - the busiest street in Shanghai - in March. The first production plant was expected to be operational in the third quarter of this year. He said the expansion in China would pave the way for its plans to seek a listing on the stock exchange, hopefully within two years. Director Peter Wong Tat-tong said China was an untapped market for coffee, and the potential demand was tremendous. Tsit Wing was founded in 1932 by Mr Wong Sek-fook's father, Mr Wong Keu. It started coffee processing in 1963, and now operates from a 40,000 sq ft factory in Kwai Chung. The company has three retail outlets on Hongkong Island, and it plans to open two to three shops in Kowloon this year.