NEW Zealand’s horticultural sector is told to keep a close eye on the role sustainability plays with Chinese consumers if it wants to maximise returns from the rapidly-growing Chinese fruit and vegetable market.
Rabobank senior horticultural analyst Hayden Higgins says while food safety, quality and nutrition credentials are the most significant factors for Chinese consumers, awareness of other characteristics such as water usage and emissions is growing.
“Chinese consumers are looking for food products that are high quality, nutritious and have strong food safety credentials,” Higgins says.
“New Zealand’s fruit and vegetable producers have been able to command a price premium in the Chinese market by supplying products that possess these attributes.
“While China has historically shown little interest in point-of-origin sustainability attributes if the product comes from outside of China, we are starting to see some changes in this area with Chinese consumers becoming increasingly aware of wider sustainability issues.”
Higgins says the sector would be wise to monitor this situation carefully as point-of-origin sustainability attributes become increasingly relevant in the Chinese market.
China is New Zealand’s largest single export destination for horticultural products.
“While the United States and European Union markets are the biggest importers of fresh fruit and vegetables, the Chinese market is by far the quickest growing. Between 2010 and 2017 we’ve seen New Zealand fruit and vegetable exports to China increase in value by almost NZ$400 million,” Higgins says.
“The Chinese government has undertaken a range of initiatives to tackle water and environmental issues, increase regulation of food standards and to look towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.
“These measures have increased consumers’ knowledge of broader sustainability issues and this has led to greater awareness of sustainability attributes in food products.”
While the findings of surveys in the Chinese market suggest there is a willingness to pay a premium for the sustainability attributes of fruit and veg products, intentions do not always correlate into actions.
Despite this, Higgins says the bank’s view is that awareness of sustainability attributes will continue to grow and play an increasingly significant role in Chinese consumers’ decision-making.
“Brands that hold, or dev-elop, strong sustainability char-acteristics have a strong future.”