Currently, the Chilean white meat industry, both poultry and pork, enjoys a great reputation in Asian markets thanks to the high standards of safety, health, and biosecurity its products are made under. This provides the country with a privileged position in terms of food safety and its authorization to export to over sixty markets. In an interview with ChileCarne, five local associates of the Chilean industry abroad, who directly contribute to position Chile and its meat products, tell us about their experience selling Chilean products in various markets, the main export destinations of the sector. They also tell us how Chile and its food products could improve their position in those countries, and what aspects of their work and the areas they work in favor the sector’s growth.
Alex Zhu, Maxagro’s Sales Manager in China, joined the company in 2021 and is in charge of all sales in the Asian giant. His main customers are distributors in the provinces of Shandong, Jiangsu, Hunan, and others. He says his experience selling Chilean products for that market has been very pleasing and satisfactory. “People like Chilean pork,” he says. He also explains that Maxagro enjoys an excellent position in China, “we built great relationships with our current customers. In the last two and a half years, the company has grown its profitability in this market. Of course, winter is always difficult, but we believe that we can maintain the business’s good position in the global market thanks to our great team.”
To further boost the positioning of Chilean food products in the Chinese market, Zhu believes they need to “learn about the current situation and the short-term future of the global market, and particularly the Chinese one to be able to recognize which exported products are stable, which ones could be marketed in the future, and which ones are only for direct business. We then need to analyze China’s population structure and the new consumption habits in 2021. Currently, the main products that Chile exports to China are still commodities. Processed food or higher quality foods should be the future, although I think that will take time,” he concludes. He also makes some distinctions: “China has its own system for feeding its people when it comes to the pork and poultry sector. The Chinese market is not the same as that of Japan and South Korea as they do not have enough food to cover the entire population’s need for animal protein. Given the current unstable global economic situation caused by COVID-19, I personally believe that we need to maintain our original market share and deepen the relationship with our customers,” he emphasizes.
Hirotake Shinohara is also a Sales Manager but for Agrosuper in Japan. He is in charge of the business expansion in that market. He has worked for the company since 2020 and his main customers are companies in the industrial sector, as well as wholesale traders, food services, and supermarkets.
Talking about his experience selling Chilean products for that market, Shinohara explains that although Chilean white meat is not frequently found in Japan, as it is not a mainstream product, its quality is very high, “probably the best in the world,” he states. “Once a customer buys our products, they tend to buy them regularly and continuously. Last year we started selling to supermarkets and the reception from consumers and customers was very good. We certainly need to increase our exposure to the general public,” he says.
Many of his customers care about quality, not only for meat, but also for the specifications of each cut. “This is because good cuts offer high yield rates. Currently, we mainly sell boxed meat, but some customers want sliced meat to reduce their daily workload,” he reveals. The market share of Chilean products represents a small percentage of the total import volume, which can be an opportunity considering the existing growth potential. “Japan is a highly stable and attractive market compared to other countries. I am convinced that an expansion of sales in the Japanese market will create benefits for the company in the medium term,” he guarantees.
One of the first members of Agrosuper’s sales team in China was Natalie Cheung, who has been with the company for about eight years as Sales Director. Her role is to prepare and implement the company’s sales strategy in the Chinese market. She also manages the sales team and builds the channel to maximize the company’s commercial margin.
She explains: “we started working with large importers in 2013 as our initial focus, gaining more than 25 customers. But since 2016, we have been targeting other channels such as food service, retail, industry, and distribution with our local office, thus strengthening our business model and bringing it closer to end users.” Cheung believes that Chilean premium exporting products, particularly pork and poultry are a symbol of high quality and that Chilean production is not aimed at mass production compared to other industries.
“Make it premium” is the most important brand attribute of Agrosuper’s Chilean products. “We make great efforts to ensure the high quality of the products thanks to a vertical integration system, and hence we make sure to bring the best products to the end consumer and to the table of each customer,” she says. “Chinese customers tend to look for a stable supply; however, there are different price and quality attributes depending on the channel. I believe that now we need to develop more customized products that are adequate and specific for existing market niches. It is important to keep developing small retail package products for e-commerce and food service channels,” she says.
“When working for a Chilean company, communication with customers becomes a key factor to improving products and service. This is why we keep improving our process and our service every day. Promotion of the Chilean product is also important to bring the concise message and the brand closer to the Chinese customer,” she adds.
For Kubota Yasuhiro, CEO of Coexca/Maxagro in Japan since 2012, the quality of Chilean products is essential in a market as demanding and strict as the Japanese market. He believes Chileans take their work seriously and have a high level of production, which explains why these products continue to be sold in the Asian country market.
Yasuhiro reports that customers ask them to make more elaborate and exclusive products specific for each segment: “I explain to customers that Chile has a natural barrier, that there is a desert to the north, the sea to the west, Antarctica to the south, and the Andes to the east, and that is why they have a biosecurity level against diseases that makes it possible to produce safe and healthy food products. In addition, all pork production companies are vertically integrated, which allows Chile to have good traceability management.”
“Consumers are becoming more familiarized with Chile’s products due to the export and sale of wine, salmon, fruits, and other products abroad. However, local consumers do not know the relevance of Chilean pork in Japan, since it is not sold in supermarkets or chain restaurants. That is something that should change,” Yasuhiro highlights. The South Korean market is another main destination for Chilean pork. Kyunghul Hong has been working at Agrosuper for fourteen years in the animal protein sales area (pork, poultry, and processed products) as Country Manager, focusing on South Korea and much of Asia, except for China and Japan. He notes that: “although Chile was the first country to sign a Free Trade Agreement with South Korea, many Koreans did not know Chilean products well. It was very important not only to convince the customer that they are high-quality products, but also to build a relationship of trust with them.”
Hong explains that for years they have been working with local distributors, and that since the beginning customers were proud of the products they were selling, as there were similarities with pork products made in South Korea. When talking about the most consumed and demanded cuts, he clarifies that local consumers undoubtedly favor pork belly, which is the most popular product in South Korea. “Thanks to the great efforts made over several years, now our customers say that they are very proud to sell Agrosuper’s products. It is important to note that the best-selling attribute is the quality of the products, since they are produced under strict health and safety standards, thus guaranteeing food safety. This allows us to supply the market without any major issues and to provide a continuous and stable supply to the South Korean population.”
“Today, we already are the number one brand in the B2B market. Our next step is to grow in the B2C area. There are still many misconceptions among South Korean consumers about imported meat being cheap and of poor quality. Our next step is to provide them with the correct information on how we control each step of the production process to guarantee food safety and how we constantly invest to improve quality even more,” he concludes.
Each of these associates knows Chile, its food and its poultry and pork industry very well, and they are a fundamental pillar to have a product offer that meets the requirements and adapts to the palate and customs of local consumers in each market, while directly contributing to the positioning of Chile and its meat industry. Each one of them provides us with eyes into those markets.