ORLANDO, Fla. — China presents opportunity to U.S. importers and exporters willing to invest time to build relationships.

Build relationships to build business in China

Fred Wilkinson

Workshop panelists Michael Colopy (from left), China specialist; John Wang, president of Canada Garlic; and Jim Provost, president of I Love Produce, talk about import and export opportunities during the Oct. 17 workshop. 

That’s the advice John Wang gave attendees of the workshop “Market Watch: The Impact of China” on Oct. 17 during Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit 2010.

Wang, president of Toronto-based Canada Garlic, said Chinese consumers are looking for high-quality fruit. Each year from 2004-08 their food expenditures increased 17% annually.

Popular fruits are gala apples, cherries and red globe grapes, he said, adding that blueberries are increasingly popular, particularly among the younger demographic because of perceived health benefits.

Build relationships to build business in China

Despite rapid economic growth and modernization, traditional channels of distribution and consumer behavior persist in China.

Wang said supermarkets net 30% of food sales in urban areas but only 5% of produce sales. Farmers markets and street vendors remain common, and shoppers usually go to the market daily to buy food for one or two meals.

A similar reality endures on the production side.

Panelist Jim Provost, president of I Love Produce, Kelton, Pa., said 700 million Chinese still live on small family farms.

“China is a land of farmers,” he said.

The low cost for labor associated with that makes China well suited for producing crops such as garlic and organics, Provost said.

“China is good at labor-intensive, value-added crops,” he said.

Provost, whose company sources garlic from China, recommends U.S. businesses wanting to grow and ship from there should do several things.

He said it’s key to know the grower, processor or supplier being dealt with and to consult customs brokers as well as U.S. and Chinese regulatory authorities about protocols.