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Premade food companies eye global expansion

Updated: Nov 14, 2023 By ZHAO RUIXUE in Jinan and ZHANG XIAOMIN in Dalian, Liaoning China Daily Print
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Workers from Shandong Nichirei Foods Co Ltd process chicken for premade food in Yantai, Shandong province, in May. [Photo/China Daily]

Shandong, Henan, Guangdong tops in firm counts, offer huge export potential

Early in October, workers at a food processing workshop of Shandong Lufeng Group were busy processing chicken into convenient prepackaged meals, which would soon be sold across China and also overseas.

Lufeng, located in Anqiu, Shandong province, produces over 600 types of premade food products, including frozen meats, cooked meats, frozen vegetables, canned goods, flour-based food, seasonings, and salted vegetables.

These have been sold to more than 10 countries and regions, including Japan and Germany.

The company, which recently participated in food expos in Canada and Germany, where its products garnered great interest, is keen to expand its global presence, according to Yun Shujie, deputy general manager of Lufeng.

"Several people have shown great interest in our products, and there is potential to secure more orders from overseas markets," he said, adding that overseas sales accounted for half of the company's total sales last year.

China has distinct advantages in developing its premade food industry as the country's agriculture is rich in food variety, which, in turn, provides abundant raw materials for the industry, Yun said.

An increasing number of Chinese premade food companies are eyeing global expansion by producing a wide variety of high-quality products to meet diverse consumer needs.

The premade food industry has developed rapidly over the past few years, with the number of such companies surpassing 70,000 in 2022, according to a white paper on the development of China's premade food industry released during the International Pre-cooked Food Industry Conference in Foshan, Guangdong province, in March.

Shandong, Henan and Guangdong are the top three provinces in terms of the number of premade food companies.

Diverse tastes

According to standards released by the China Cuisine Association, premade food can be classified into four categories in terms of form — ready to eat, ready to heat, ready to cook and ready to mix.

Yun said different regions have different food demands, and diverse agricultural products allow premade food companies to meet those needs.

For instance, Shandong's abundant agricultural resources have provided a solid foundation for companies in the province to produce rich varieties of premade food. Production of grains, fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs, dairy products and aquatic products from Shandong has ranked among the top in the country for many years.

In addition, Shandong has been the top province in terms of agricultural product exports for 24 consecutive years. Among the exported agricultural products, deep-processing products account for 47.7 percent, according to statistics from the Shandong Provincial Department of Commerce.

Over 8,500 companies are engaged in premade food production in the province, data from the Shandong Provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Affairs show.

To develop customized foods, Lufeng has more than 10 employees dedicated to research and development, some of whom have majored in food nutrition engineering.

Other companies are also prioritizing foods that cater to varied tastes.

Shandong Nichirei Foods Co Ltd, a joint venture located in Yantai, studied roadside vendors in Japan and successfully rolled out frozen imagawayaki, a type of Japanese pancake.

"We selected five flavors of imagawayaki based on customer preferences," said Koizumi Minoru, general manager of Shandong Nichirei.

The red bean, egg yolk and matcha flavors are particularly popular in Japan, and the company plans to introduce peach, milk tea and mango flavors in the next phase.

To enrich its product profile in Japan, the company has introduced South Korean food products, including cheese rice cakes and spicy white cabbage.

As a pioneer in the export of premade food to Japan, Shandong Nichirei has made its products available in major supermarkets and convenience stores across Japan. Its products are also exported to North America.

In Dalian, a coastal city across the Bohai Sea from Shandong, premade aquatic food products are gaining popularity overseas.

"The export volume of our premade aquatic foods has increased every year, especially seaweed salad, which has always been popular," said Gai Quanhong, chairman of Dalian Gaishi Food Co, which is based in Lyushunkou district of Dalian, Liaoning province.

A leading company that specializes in prepared appetizers like seaweed, mushrooms and seafood salad, Gaishi has exported its products to more than 60 countries and regions, including Japan, the United States, Europe and Southeast Asia.

The company's exports to countries and regions involved in the Belt and Road Initiative last year exceeded 30 million yuan ($4.1 million), accounting for about 16 percent of its total export value. Last year, Gaishi spent 5.87 million yuan on market research and developing foods that meet consumer demand.

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