Organic meat demand soars in China

By Mark Godfrey

- Last updated on GMT

Food safety has become a priority for consumers in China
Food safety has become a priority for consumers in China

Related tags Organic food

Demand for organic-certified meat is reaching fever pitch in China, with local firms battling for sales to consumers still worried about food safety, and a high-profile spat between two meat firms engaged in the trade.

A firm with China’s official organic certification, the Shan Ban Nuo brand is also marketed under its English name, St Buono, in company-owned stores and in sales on some of China’s largest online retailers. St Buono is a brand of the Hu Lun Bei Er Lu Xiang Islamic Qing Zhen Meat Products Co, which is also a shareholder in the Beijing Shan Ban Nuo Organic Food Co. The latter distributes the St Buono and Lu Xiang branded products in China’s capital.

A very public spat came to light recently when state-owned news agency Xinhua reported that the Jiangsu Foodstuffs Corp – a giant conglomerate based in the east coast province of the same name – was selling meat past its sell-by date which carried the labels of the Beijing Shan Ban Nuo Organic Food Co-distributed organic products. An investigation into how the larger firm was selling outdated Shan Ban Nuo product – which sells at a premium to non-organic meat products – is ongoing.

The Hu Lun Bei Er Lu Xiang Islamic Qing Zhen Meat Products Co claims to have one million sheep and 20,000 cattle on its grasslands in Inner Mongolia. In Beijing it sells packaged lamb, cut for hot pot strips (2.5kg/RMB259) and in rib pieces (900g/RMB85), while whole carcases are sold for RMB1,990 (10-12 kg in weight), with the price including delivery.

Shan Ban Nuo/St Buono has also secured China’s Geographical Indicator (GI) certification – increasingly a preoccupation for Chinese meat processors. It also has a halal certification – but from the Hu Lun Bei Er Islamic Association rather than any international body. GI is a labelling that identifies a product as originating in a specific territory, with good characteristics associated with its place of origin.

Other firms, meanwhile, are lining up to enter the organic competition. An ambitious meat firm in western China is promising to become an organic meat leader in a decade. Xin Sheng Agri Trading Co in far-westerly Xinjiang province “wants to give the ordinary folk safe meat​”, explained Feng Yutai, chairman of the firm. “We want to help shepherds become rich and become a national organic base for China.”

Founded only in 2004 by the Hejing Co-operative Association and a furniture firm with roots in Hebei province near Beijing – the Xinjiang Datang Gang Mu Jia Yu Co – in 2012 the firm established the Hejing Industrialised Modern Livestock Breeding & Processing Park.

Feng said his firm would make use of wild hillside grazing grounds and has almost 1,000 mu (around 67 hectares) of fully-organic silage grounds, and a feedlot system which taps methane gas for electricity production. Feng is targeting sales in first-tier cities through online portals and company-operated bricks-and-mortar stores. Like many local meat firms, the company is seeking to assure consumers by putting camera feeds from its feed lots and abattoirs online 24 hours a day.

Also seeking to ride the green-themed meat market in Beijing is Wu Hua Tou, a processor of mountain goats which it is selling in company-owned stores and home-delivered gift boxes. An extensive marketing campaign shows the goats grazing flowers and herbs in the Shen Shan hills, with cutlets selling for 350g/RMB50. Neither Xin Sheng Agri Trading Co nor Wu Hua Tou has secured China’s organic certification, which is currently harder to achieve after being overhauled in recent years.

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