From Chinese delicacies to east-west fusion, all this and more in store for global buyers: tempted you bite, satisfied you smile on this island oasis of multi-flavored food culture.
"First and foremost, we offer healthy food that is tasty and satisfying," Richard K. F. Soong, chairman of Chimei, told this writer. The occasion was lunch at his office in Tainan City, and the delicious roasted eel main course was rich in protein, vitamins A and E, and calcium.
But the setting could have been in one of the 16 Chi Mei Cafe shops or Fu Shih Food Catering locations that the company operates. Many serve employees of affiliated concerns in the IT industry, where the diversified group's Chi Lin Optoelectronics subsidiary ranks as Taiwan's largest maker of thin film transistor liquid crystal display (TFT-LCD) panels used in TV sets, computer monitors, giant screens, mobile phones and electronic shelf displays in supermarkets and other stores.
The Chi Mei Group, founded in 1960 by Wen-long Shi, began as an acrylic sheet manufacturer prior to branching out into multiple other sectors, including petrochemicals, construction, trading and logistics. Four decades ago it entered the frozen food industry, and last year generated approximately US $33,000,000 in sales of mainly traditional Chinese dishes, pasta and Western-style cakes.
Chi Mei Frozen Food Company's product line runs the gamut from meat- and vegetable-filled dumplings to wonton (paozu) and dimsum ranging from pearl balls and crab shaomai to Tiensin fluffy green onion pancakes and pork sticky rice. It also supplies ready to heat-and-eat pouches containing such fare as wu-xee super ribs, beef in soya sauce, stewed pork intestine and spaghetti with bolognaise sauce. For dessert, there's a choice of cheese-cake, tiramisu, chocolate truffle and cranberry pie.
"Innovation is our secret ingredient," said Charles Yang, the company's senior manager in charge of exports. "Our initial success stemmed from perfecting a way to produce and freeze Chinese steamed buns that taste as if they were homemade."
Success at home has led to growing demand in export markets, and the company has an impressive list of customers in Japan that include Tokyo Disneyland and leading food retailers such as Costco. Buyers in Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea and Australia are also fond of the Chi Mei label, as are WHN Supermarket outlets in Holland and 99 Ranch Market stores in the United States.
Chi Mei has sold lots of vegetable dumplings and buns in the USA, but up until now no meat-based products may be exported to that market. This could prompt the company to eventually build a production plant in California.
Tan Hou: From Cobia to Organic Baked Goods
When it comes to sea-ranched cobia, Tan Hou Ocean Development Co., Ltd. has no equal in Taiwan--or for that matter anywhere else. The company can legitimately claim to be the king of the sea cage culture scene, as its capacity for raising 600,000 fish per year in unpolluted waters of the Penghu archipelago accounts for upwards of 70% of island's floating fish pens. At one time it supplied as much as half the world's demand for the farm-raised warm-water species, which is popular as a shabu-shabu hot pot ingredient and as sliced and diced components for sushi and sashimi preparations.
"We grow this fish, as well as king grouper, 100% naturally--without the use of antibiotics, hormones or medicines of any kind," Chairman Liu Tan-hou told Quick Frozen Foods International. "It takes almost two years for cobia to reach maturity, after which they are harvested and processed at our Penghu plant for both the wet and frozen markets."
The entrepreneur, who made his first fortune in the high-tech semiconductor and display panel industries, got into the food business in 2003. Liu entered the fisheries field in part because, as a colon cancer survivor who was observing a doctor's prescribed diet, he could not fund fish products that met strict specifications for wholesomeness and safety.
Liu went on to build a company that not only produces barcode-labeled cobia with total traceability from farm to fork, but also supplies shrimp, oyster meat and other seafood items. Beyond fishery products, there has been expansion into the production of all-natural pork, beef and poultry. Indeed, much of the organic feed for raising chicken and pigs is sourced from residue from the company's fish processing operation.
Meanwhile, a retail shop has been established in Taipei that produces in-store organic baked goods, sells hand-made noodles, serves up energy-charged fruit and vegetables juices, and carries a wide range of fresh produce.
"Fish is our mainstay, however, and cobia is our priority product," stated Novia Liu. The chairman's daughter, who beads up the sales department, is looking to broaden exports beyond Japan and East Asia to Europe and North America. "We already have distribution in France, and believe that the EU and USA markets can be further developed," she said.
Fusion and Value from Lian Ruey
Among Taiwan's highly regarded producers of value-added frozen seafood dishes and ingredients is Tainan-based Lian Ruey Enterprise Co., Ltd., which started out in 1987 as a family-run grocery store specializing in canned seafood and dried fish. Eleven years later it began importing frozen and canned seafood for resale to wholesalers and processors. In 1995 it became a full-fledged processor, and today it operates a state-of-the-art factory in the Tainan Technology Industrial Park area.
While Tainan is on the modern cutting edge of science, technology and food fusion cuisine, it is also the oldest and arguably most traditional city on the island, believed to have been settled more than 500 years ago by Hakka immigrants crossing the Taiwan Strait from the mainland China provinces of Guandong and Fujian. The Dutch East India Company established a trading base and colony there in 1624, before being kicked out by loyalists to the Ming Dynasty in 1661. Tainan served as the capital under the Tungning Kingdom until the Qing Dynasty set up the new provincial capital in Taipei in 1887.
"Our main business is foodservice-oriented, with hotels, chain restaurants, sushi houses, pizza parlors and airlines among our customer base. We also supply wedding banquet and party food," said Lian Ruey's Donna Wu. "On the retail side, we make Orchid Gourmet and Dragon brand products for high-end supermarkets. Exports, which are growing, account for 30% of total turnover."
Mrs. Wu, who is the daughter of the company's founder, explained that the flavor of Taiwan food today is the product of centuries of regional cultural influences. Spain, Portugal, Holland and Japan all colonized Taiwan at one time or another, and toward the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949 Kuomintang forces retreated to the island and brought some of the best chefs from China with them. Subsequent aid from the United States brought the introduction of American kitchen techniques. More recently a wave of foreign spouse immigration from Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines and other countries has spiced up the pot even more.
Lian Ruey's extensive product line includes heat-and-eat, semi-prepared and ready-to-cook delicacies ranging from sakura shrimp, lobster stock and cuttle-fish with roe, to orange tobiko, seasoned octopus slices, oyster sauce-flavored locos, sliced conch, seafood nuggets and blue belt halfbeak rolls.
In addition to sourcing raw materials domestically, the company imports a good deal of seafood including lobster meat, frozen-at-sea scallops and Arctic surf clams from Canada, cuttlefish from India, and farm-raised shrimp from Saudi Arabia.
Looking to further boost exports, especially to North America and Europe, Mrs. Wu has targeted the P. F. Chang's China Bistro restaurant chain in the USA. "The menu style there is similar to what is popular in Taiwan, so we think that some of our prepared dishes should appeal to their customers," she said.
See Best: Hot Pot Ingredients and Plenty More
Up north, in the Linkou Township district of sprawling New Taipei City, the factory of Northwest Food Ind. Co. Ltd. turns out a myriad of frozen food products under its proprietary See Best brand name. The enterprise, which was launched in 1962 as Northwest No. 1 Fish Dumpling Co., has evolved over the past half-century to become a leading producer of hot pot ingredients spanning the shabu-shabu universe from pork- and cuttlefish-filled dumplings to fish balls with taro, meat balls, fish tofu with vegetables and kamaboko fugi yama, as well as 1,000-gram packs of hot pot soup bases featuring Chinese Satay, Chinese Spicy Soup [see page 11] and kimchi recipes. Mutton stew in brown sauce is also offered.
That's just the beginning, as other ingredients supplied range from chin-chin sausage and tempura sticks to cut cobs of sweet corn, black tiger and white shrimp, tilapia fillets, lamb imported from New Zealand and boneless short ribs and beef brisket sourced from the USA.
The diversified list goes on to include BBQ ingredients such as grilled mochi, as well as baked goods and ice cream. Among the bakery products are Chinese sweet treats and holiday favorites including pineapple cake, moon cake, hand-made nougat, egg yolk cake, and brown sugar and pumpkin seed cake.
"Over 2,800 restaurants in Taiwan use our products, and the hot pot chains are the biggest customers," said Ken Chen, marketing manager. "We also sell to online buyers and supply retail packs to major supermarket operators and convenience stores, among them Carrefour, Matsusei, Wellcome and Family Mart. The export trade, which accounts for about five percent of our business, brings See Best products throughout Asia as well as Australia, South Africa and North America."
Recently the company debuted its own restaurant concept which, not surprisingly, centers around hot pot cuisine. Two outlets are now open--one in New Taipei City and the second in Tiachung--doing business under the "Warm Shabu" marque. Plans call for opening four additional units in 2012, and a dozen more over the next five years.
"The strategy is to appeal to a 25-35-year old demographic, as the trend for young people in Taiwan is to eat out more often," said Fenny Lee of the marketing and planning department. "We are serving up healthy, natural food at affordable prices, which should be a recipe for success."
Food Taipei: Hot Show in June For Innovative Frozen Products
Food Taipei, set for June 23-30 at the TWTC Nangang Exhibition Hall, promises to again be a bustling platform for buyers and sellers of Taiwan food products. Last year's rendition, which featured 830 companies at 1,780 booths, is expected to be surpassed.
Frozen fare will be in high profile at a new exhibition section in TWTC Hall 1, where "Taste of Summer Fun" and "Summer-awesomeness, Taipei Frozen Treats" will be the themes.
According to the Taiwan External Trade Development Council, show organizer, the annual international event will be highlighted by the introduction of healthy, nutritious, safe and delicious food products.
Treats from Taiwan's southern, central and northern regions--from Kaohsiung and Tainan to Changhua Shien and Yunlin, to Taoyuan and Keelung--will be available to sample. For those looking to cool off during Taipei's typically hot and humid late-June days, Charmy Food Co. Ltd. will be serving up its unique snow ice. YoFroyo Foods International will be dishing out fat-free, low-calorie frozen yogurt. And Village of Ice, Kuo Jer and Andesboba will provide layer-of-brick ice cream, sweet potato balls and lots more.
By JOHN M. SAULNIER
QFFI Chief Editor & Publisher
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|Title Annotation:||Report from TAIWAN|
|Author:||Saulnier, John M.|
|Publication:||Quick Frozen Foods International|
|Date:||Apr 1, 2012|
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