European-style cured ham builds momentum in China

By Mark Godfrey

- Last updated on GMT

Cured meats from Tibet are being marketed to Chinese urbanites
Cured meats from Tibet are being marketed to Chinese urbanites

Related tags: Ham, Pork

A leading pig breeder from China is launching European-style premium cured ham products to shield it from future falls in hog prices. 

A subsidiary of Chuying – one of China’s leading breeders of pigs - Tibet Dongyuan Food Co, established in 2015, Ltd is marketing smoked ham from the Tibetan black pig species as a healthier variation of traditional ham. A ham that “adds to human health and longevity of life” according to marketing, the product is aimed at the high end of China’s huge market for pork. It is being marketed to Chinese urbanites as nutritious and safe, from pigs fed in Tibet where the air is pure and unique.

Using advisors and equipment from the US and Italy, Dongyuan Food Co is marketing smoked legs of pork in a style familiar to Italy or Spain. Chuying has invested RMB20 million plant capable of slaughtering up to six million head per year with capacity for 1,000 tons of processed annual output.

The project in Jomdo County represents the most modern pig slaughtering and processing facility in Tibet, according to the firm which has also added a tourist theme park to the Tibet project.

Cured Italian and Spanish ham, just getting a foothold in the Chinese market, may have found local competition in the form of a Dongyuan, which is applying western methodology to produce a ham with Tibetan marketing.

While slaughtering is done in Tibet, Dongyuan smokes and stores the pork in a subsidiary in Zhengzhou, a city in China’s most populous region - far from Tibet – which is also Chuying’s home base.

Chuying processes pork in-house but is best known for supplying piglets and hogs to other pig fattening/processing companies. A native species, the black-haired Tibetan pig is slower growing than the mainstream breeds like Landrace or Duroc.

Tibet is frequently used as a backdrop for marketing campaigns by Chinese food companies which seek to parlay the mystic spirituality of the previously independent territory, ruled by China since 1959.

The Tibetan pork project is the latest foray into the value added end of the pork sector for Chuying since it took over Dongyuan Food Co two years ago. Dongyuan was set up in 2012 in the city of Dongyang in affluent Zhejiang province as a “deep processing” firm with products sold through a chain store trading under the same name. The firm’s branding slogan “Nutritious, healthy, safe and delicious” clearly appealed to consumers wary of food safety and the firm was in 2014 acquired by Chuying as a subsidiary.

Through Chuying, the firm taps into a marketing network in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Zhengzhou, boasting of pork that is ‘healthy’ and safe. It is also promoted as ‘fang xin’, which roughly translates as ‘rest assured’ - a term that’s become ubiquitous in food marketing across China as firms try to assure consumers of quality and safety.

Benefiting from a rebound in pig prices over the past 18 months, Chuying Agro-pastoral Group Co Ltd is projecting a year on year rise of up to 357% in profits in 2016. The firm booked RMB443 million (US$64.3m) hog sales in September, but average selling prices were down 4.5% month-on-month at RMB17.6/kg (US$2.56/kg).

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