THE growing affluence of middle class China is fuelling a shift in the way beef is consumed, away from the stir fry and hot pot towards Western-style steak.
For Australian beef, that clearly offers enormous potential but those at the forefront of tapping into that opportunity say it’s a slow burn that right now is very much about getting to know the consumer very, very well.
The hurdles are many.
Unlike chicken and pork, Chinese people have not grown up cooking beef; they are particularly unfamiliar with what to expect from chilled beef and they are space and time-poor.
Vertically integrated Bindaree Beef Group, whose processing and fattening facilities are based in Northern NSW, exports around 40 per cent of their overall production each year.
It’s strategy is to promote branded retail-ready product in Asia.While not the only focus, China is definitely a priority.
Head of sales and marketing James Campbell says the company is looking to be at the forefront of consumer insight-led strategy in China.
“Our approach is looking at customers, and their customers, as opposed to markets,” he said.
“That comprises consumers who walk into a supermarket and those who shop online.
“We partner with retailers to understand the dynamics of their protein category and who is their shopper and we provide a solution.
Head of marketing Shannon Roach said: “We are coming at it from a customer centric focus with an FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) execution.
“For what occasion are consumers looking to buy beef? What are their kitchen set-ups, what do they cook with?
“Affluent urban Chinese consumers are the ones travelling, they are often educated in international places and eat regularly in top restaurants.
“They are interested in replicating that experience at home.”
Beef performs well in China in regard to being seen as premium, great tasting protein for special occasions, she said.
Where it doesn’t do as well as pork and chicken is in versatility.
“The Chinese are not as comfortable cooking and preparing beef,” Ms Roach said.
“So we have gone down a path of investing in education.”
The company’s “how-to’’ videos and recipe cards, distributed both online and in-store through QR codes on products that can be scanned to source the recipes, have experienced strong uptake.
Bindaree has also launched novel cook-alongside-a-chef demonstrations to disperse more information on how to get the most out of chilled, high quality Australian beef.
“We also answer every question that consumers ask us online,” Ms Roach said.
Many of those are around packaging.
Long life retail packaging is a relatively new concept in China so meat colour changes, aroma and aging of meat information is critical to ensuring the full value is being realised, according to Ms Roach.
“As an industry, we talk about how do we get China more familiar with chilled product,” Mr Campbell said.
“In our experience, it’s a far more gradual process than perhaps it might at first look.
“The opportunity we see will be around getting as close to a customer as we can.
“To that end, we are constantly looking for insight from various points.”