Growing awareness of sustainability

Rabobank’s senior horticultural analyst Hayden Higgins.

New Zealand’s horticultural sector needs to keep a close eye on the role sustainability attributes play in the purchasing decisions of Chinese consumers if it’s to maximise returns from the rapidly-growing Chinese fruit and vegetable market, according to Rabobank’s senior horticultural analyst Hayden Higgins.

Hayden says while food safety, quality and nutrition credentials are currently the most significant factors influencing Chinese consumers’ food-purchasing decisions, awareness of other product characteristics –including sustainability attributes, such as water usage and emissions – is growing.

“Chinese consumers are looking for food products which are high quality, nutritious and have strong food safety credentials and NZ’s fruit and vegetable producers have been able to command a price premium in the Chinese market by supplying products which possess these attributes,” says Hayden, who talked on the subject at this year’s Horticulture NZ Conference.

Greater awareness

“While China has historically shown little interest in point-of-origin sustainability attributes if the product comes from outside of China, we are starting to see some changes in this area with Chinese consumers becoming increasingly aware of wider sustainability issues.”

Hayden says China has made moves in recent years to address some of its own natural resourcing challenges, increasing awareness of sustainability issues among Chinese consumers.

“In recent years the Chinese Government has undertaken a range of initiatives to tackle water and environmental issues, increase regulation of food standards and look towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“These measures have increased consumers’ knowledge of broader sustainability issues and this has led to greater awareness of sustainability attributes in food products.”

As a result, Hayden says it is vital NZ’s horticultural sector keep abreast of Chinese consumer views on sustainability issues, such as water usage and pollution, as they develop.

“The sector would be wise to monitor this situation carefully as we expect to see point-of-origin sustainability attributes become increasingly relevant in the Chinese market.”

Most significant market

And a strong knowledge of consumer trends in the Chinese market is essential for NZ producers given it is our country’s largest single export destination for horticultural products, say Hayden.

“While the US and EU markets are the biggest global importers of fresh fruit and vegetables, the Chinese market is by far the quickest growing and during the period between 2010 and 2017 we’ve seen NZ fruit and vegetable exports to China increase in value by almost $400 million,” says Hayden.

“China is now the most significant market for NZ fruit and vegetables by size, growth potential and proximity – and, accordingly, we’d expect to see the NZ horticultural sector continue to place a strong emphasis on developing further growth opportunities in this market.”

And while NZ producers could learn from sustainability developments in other markets, Hayden says it’s important that any positioning for sustainability be market-specific, not generic.

“We’ve seen sustainability attributes become more and more prominent in other markets around the world and NZ producers can certainly learn from developments in these markets.

“However, it will be crucial that any positioning developed for the Chinese market is focused on the specific attributes that are important to Chinese consumers.”


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