China meat sector pumps cash into automation

By Wang Fangqing, in Shanghai

- Last updated on GMT

Meat Expo China was held in Shanghai
Meat Expo China was held in Shanghai

Related tags China People's republic of china Packaging equipment & materials Processing equipment & plant design

With demand for quality and safe meat products consistently increasing within mainland China, a major industry conference in Shanghai has heard how purchases of processing machinery are also on the rise.

The three-day Meat Expo China event, held between 25 and 27 November by conference organiser Messe Frankfurt (Shanghai) Co, heard that as the world’s largest pork and second-largest poultry producer, China spent €108 million (US$114.4m) buying meat processing machines overseas in 2014. This was up 1.3% from 2013, according to the Germany-based engineering association the VDMA (Verband Deutscher Maschinen- und Anlagenbau).

Speaking at the Shanghai New International Expo Centre, Margret Menzel, head of marketing at the VDMA, stressed that Chinese meat companies were prioritising safety and hygiene with their purchases: “Safety and quality go hand in hand. Machines and equipment have to be hygienically designed. If necessary, traceability needs to be achieved using the record and data stored in machines,”​ she explained.

High efficiency levels

High degrees of automation are also being sought by the Chinese meat sector, including manufacturers, retailers and food service suppliers, which are seeking high efficiency levels and lower labour costs, said Masahiro Watanabe, managing director of Watanabe Foodmach, a meat slicer manufacturer, based in Nagoya, Japan.

“In China, 80% of our clients are local Chinese companies, with the rest 20% Japanese companies,” ​Watanabe told GlobalMeatNews at the event. ​I see Chinese companies have realised the return from spending on high-quality machines.”​ He was there to promote the company’s latest frozen meat slicer – the VORTEX WFC-V360, which is said to be able to cut 380 pieces of frozen meat per minute, compared with about 280 pieces on average.

In China, Watabane Foodmach has a manufacturing plant in Zhuozhou, Hebei province and a sales office in Shanghai. Its clients include China’s leading meat processor Shuanghui Group (now called the WH Group), China’s largest state-owned food company the COFCO Group and the large Taiwan food company Tingyi Holdings. Such customers help Watanabe Foodmach generate about CNY50m (US$7.8m) in sales each year.

“We still see our sales grow at about 10% each year, although China’s economy is entering the ‘new norm’,”​ Watanabe said, referring to China’s slowing economic growth since 2012.

Strong domestic demand

Strong domestic demand for highly efficient machines also benefits Dajiang Machinery Equipment, a packing machine manufacturer based in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province. “We’ve got Chinese clients saying to us, ‘Just give me something automatic,​said Zhao Baoyan, Dajiang sales manager. ​If there have to be some workers involved, try to put them at fixed positions’.”

She said the company used to sell packing machines overseas only, but about 15 years ago it saw opportunities in the Chinese market.

“More and more Chinese meat companies and foodservice providers have realised the importance of food safety, thanks to the increasingly strict food safety regulations,”​ Zhao said.

Her comment was acknowledged by Wei Yu, commissioner of department of food safety supervision of China’s food and drug administration. “Many foreign meat companies are very interested in China,”​ Wei said at the event. “If Chinese meat companies couldn’t build a solid food safety system, the Chinese meat market would be dominated by foreign brands, and it this would be dangerous for nurturing our domestic meat industry.”

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