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China's evolving frozen food sector poised to produce more consumer packs.

Manufacturers, once almost entirely bulk foods-oriented, gear up to meet needs of a population whose living standard continues to rise. Joint ventures invited to help modernization.

Just how large is China's frozen food industry? Nobody knows for sure, since statistics gathered by state agencies following the opening of free markets to farmers in 1986 do not reflect the nation's total output. But there is no mistaking that the market's scope is huge in volume terms. And with per capita consumption standing at only 2.11 kilograms, plenty of room for growth remains.

Total output was put at 2.32 million tons seven years ago, Li Lian Zhong told delegates attending the USA National Frozen Food Convention in Las Vegas recently. The China National Foodstuff Corp. (CNFC), which is part of the Ministry of Commerce, was responsible for freezing some 1.6 million tons of pork, beef, mutton, poultry, eggs and other products. The Ministry of Agriculture turned out 500,000 tons of aquatic products, and the Ministry of Trade produced 220,000 tons of various frozen foodstuffs for export.

Up to now the CNFC's role has primarily been to supply retail shops and institutions with whole frozen carcasses that are cut up at the point of distribution to end users. Its cold storage capacity of 2.7 million tons, along with daily freezing capacity of 53,000 tons, respectively account for 67.5% and 70% of the republic's total.

Mr. Li, president of the Beijing-headquartered CNFC, headed up a delegation of 16 Chinese frozen food industrialists who toured the United States last autumn following an itinerary organized by Quick Frozen Foods International magazine. After attending the convention in Nevada, they spent a busy two weeks traveling coast to coast to meet with key personnel from some of America's leading frozen food companies. Among those visited were ConAgra, Tyson Foods, Stouffer Foods Corp., Campbell Soup Co., Rich Products and AgriPac.

In addition to surveying the USA frozen food landscape first-hand, some members of the delegation expressed interests in importing high-tech processing and packaging equipment needed to modernize their plants. Others were keen on setting up joint venture operations with American concerns. Liu Haoxin of the Nanjing-based Food Products General Co., for example, was looking for partners to invest in separate packaging and fast food production facilities in Jiangsu province. The latter would be built to make hamburgers, hotdogs and other items for domestic restaurants.

Director Li noted that changes ushered in during recent years by China's economic reforms and open-door policy have paved the way for a revolution in food production methods. "Along with the development of the economy, living standards have risen and the rhythms of life have quickened," he explained. "Therefore frozen meat carcasses, whole poultry and big fish blocks no longer fulfill requirements. Today's market demands a variety of high quality frozen food products which are nutritious, nicely packaged and easy to prepare."

The delegation leader credited a number of Western-style fast food concepts with rapidly spreading the gospel of frozen prepared foods among the urban masses of China: "This is the reason why Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald's hamburgers, Italian pizza and California beef noodles are getting more popular."

Plants Updating

The CNFC, which encompasses some 1,640 enterprises employing over 369,000 workers, is moving to update its factories to better serve the contemporary marketplace. Small, consumer-size meat and poultry packs are now being manufactured, along with different kinds of Chinese pastries such as steamed buns, spring rolls, dumplings, meatballs and fishballs. Thus far, however, only pastries are being IQF-frozen. Other products continue to be blast frozen.

"A lot of work has to be done to get our industry up to speed, but our major producers of frozen foods are moving faster than ever before," said Guo Yu-xin, who represented the Chinese Association of Refrigeration. "No time has been better for foreign companies to establish long-term strategic relationships with counterparts in the world's most populous country"
COPYRIGHT 1993 E.W. Williams Publications, Inc.
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Author:Saulnier, John M.
Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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