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Online shop connects American farmers with Chinese kitchens

By Yu Wei in San Francisco | China Daily | Updated: 2013-07-09 11:55

 Online shop connects American farmers with Chinese kitchens

Fresh produce from US orchards - like these in San Francisco - are now express-shipped to online shoppers in China. Yu Wei / China Daily

Within a few hours of harvesting, fresh picked cherries from across the Pacific are quickly cleaned, sorted, packed, shipped via air and delivered directly to Chinese consumers.

The key to making this happen is placing an order on Tmall.com pre-sale channel, Alibaba Group's business-to-consumer online shopping website, which is currently promoting a food campaign in conjunction with the US Department of Agriculture's trade office in Shanghai.

The promotion, which began June 27 and ran through July 8, features more than 60 different food products, including Boston lobster, Alaskan wild salmon and cod, Sun-Maid raisins and fresh Northwest cherries from the states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Utah, according to Keith Hu, international marketing director of Northwest Cherry Growers.

Hu said geographical advantages and advanced scientific research have made the Northwest cherry more attractive and well-known in China. "China is the top export market for Northwest cherries outside of North America," he said.

More than 2.2 million boxes of Northwest cherries were sold to China in 2012, while there were only 30,000 boxes sold in 2005.

Hu believes cherry exports to China will continue to increase. "The demand is there," he said, "especially in the second tier cities."

Hu praised the efficiency and affordability of the pre-sale model that Tmall.com has created, because it allows the Chinese consumer to buy highly perishable, high-value foods.

In the pre-order system, users pay a small deposit on a selected item for later delivery. US companies can accurately calculate consumer demand and ship only products that are ordered. At the same time, prices that consumers ultimately pay can go down as the volume of orders rises. Northwest cherries, for example, were initially priced at 179 yuan a kilogram, but dropped to 89.5 yuan after nearly 19,000 customers pre-ordered.

Fu Chen, a PR person in Beijing and one of those 19,000 customers, said, "I paid half price on Tmall.com to get the same kind of US cherries sold in my local supermarket."

The goal of the joint initiative is to give Chinese customers access to a variety of US products.

"In the first half of 2013, we saw a 500 percent surge in sales of imported food on Tmall.com," Daniel Zhang, president of Tmall.com, said in a press release, "and we are thrilled to be collaborating once again with the US Department of Agriculture to meet the increasing needs of our users.

"The pre-sale model has revolutionized the traditional imported food supply chain," he added. "It not only returns cost savings to buyers and suppliers, but also ensures that consumers receive the freshest produce possible, direct from the source."

According to the USDA, agricultural exports from the US to China reached $546 billion in 2012, up 34 percent from 2011.

At the same time, E-commerce has become a relatively easy way for US producers to gain access to the Chinese market.

Keith Schneller, director of the USDA Agricultural Trade Office in Shanghai called Tmall.com "an excellent new channel" that provides a chance for small- and medium-sized American food and beverage producers to access millions consumers in China.

"Tmall has provided new channels for our products we never dreamed of and we hope to increase cooperation and the range of American products in the future," Schneller said.

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