More than 60 Queensland food and drink companies have began pitching their products to importers and distributors to the booming Asian market as part of the Taste of Queensland exports promotion.
Taking place online, buyers will be able to taste a wide range of food and drink products that were despatched to them prior - bringing Queensland's rich produce to their senses.
More than 120 international buyers across 12 major Asian cities - including Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong - will be involved in what is a testament to Queensland's commitment to working inside the Asian market.
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Goondiwindi based dairy products producer Barambah Organics is one of Queensland companies involved. Barambah Organics currently exports to Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong. CEO Matthew Stanton said Asian export provides a massive opportunity of growth for the company.
"Export is a key channel for us that is needed for growth," Mr Stanton said.
"Taste Queensland will help us be more targeted and give us time to build the brand in South East Asia.
Mr Stanton admitted that taste tests over Zoom were far from ideal, but through coordination business can resume as normal
"The preference will always be to be on the ground to talk to retailers and consumers but the current situation means you need to work out of necessity and by having a coordinated approach you can achieve the same results."
Aussie export success story, Bundaberg Brewed Drinks believe targeting the Asian market is key to their $100m expansion.
"Asia has and will continue to be a key focus for our global expansion," Bundaberg Brewed Drinks CEO John McLean said.
"Consumers in Asia are familiar with ginger, so there are opportunities for us to grow Ginger Beer in the region as a whole.
"Australian made products are known for being high quality. Our commitment to brewing real, using locally sourced ingredients, means we are able to deliver on the premium standard consumers in that region are looking for."
Townsville-based Nourishing Bites - a proudly Indigenous-owned manufacturer of healthy treats - will present its product in Singapore, the centre of the dynamic South East Asia region, after two years of detailed product development and market research.
"This is an incredible opportunity for us," owner Shelley Grainger said.
"We've spent the past two years refining our product range to suit overseas taste profiles, understanding the export landscape and deciding which markets we're best to target.
"We're so proud to showcase amazing Indigenous Australian agriculture and ingredients and very hopeful for our first ever export deal.
"All the support, including even getting our products freighted to Singapore has been just amazing - freight costs have gone up, so that practical support has been absolutely crucial."
Nourishing Bites was established as a Townsville market stall in 2013 and now operates online and physical stores, a café and baking classes.
In 2019 it received Deadly Deals funding from the Advance Queensland Deadly Innovation Strategy and is included in the Advance Queensland Indigenous Native Food Program.
The Premier and Minister for Trade Annastacia Palaszczuk said the virtual trade push reinforces in key Asian markets that Queensland is open for trade.
"This novel, month long promotion has already generated very keen interest in our Asian markets with so many potential buyers already signed up for on-line meetings," the Premier said.
"In the last two years, the Taste of Queensland events have chalked up more than $10 million in sales for Queensland exporters.
Exports returning to normal
For the first time since the pandemic hit, food sales are approaching "pre-crisis levels" - both locally and in Australia's key export markets of the US and China - as major COVID-driven disruptions appear to be "behind us", according to agribusiness banking specialist Rabobank.
Robobank's general manager of food and agribusiness research in Australia and New Zealand Tim Hunt said recent economic data and earnings statements of major food companies now suggest "we are not far off normal at all" when it comes to food sales.
"We really saw the gap starting to close in March and it's come at a rate that I must say, has personally surprised me," Mr Hunt said.
At the start of the pandemic, food service sales (through restaurants, cafes and hospitality venues) plummeted as countries moved into lockdown while retail food sales (from supermarkets and food stores) climbed as consumers increased in-home consumption and stockpiled food.
Mr Hunt said while food sales had now recovered to "at, or around, pre-crisis levels in key markets", there had been very little additional growth in food sales over the past two years and "we are probably a long way of re-achieving that".
"In China, for example, food service sales used to grow at double-digit rates before this crisis hit," he said. "Now two years after April 2019, its growth rate in food service is at an annualised rate of only 2.5 per cent. Astonishingly, that means that food service sales in Australia have outpaced those in China over the last two years."
Going forward, Mr Hunt warned that while "major COVID-driven disruptions may now be behind us" in the key Australian, Chinese and US markets, "we are still likely to see bumps ahead".
"Things to watch out for include a lull in food service spend after consumers rush to eat out in the first months after lockdowns ease, the likelihood of localised lockdowns in response to local viral flare-ups, the diversion of more consumer spending to the service sectors as crowd restrictions ease and the waning of the US stimulus impact as the year progresses," he said.
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