Presence in China key to successful trade

Silver Fern Farms chief transformation officer Matt Ballard, pictured near the company's Shanghai...
Silver Fern Farms chief transformation officer Matt Ballard, pictured near the company's Shanghai offices, says New Zealand companies will not succeed with Chinese consumers if they try to do it just from New Zealand. PHOTO: BRUCE MUNRO
The meteoric pace of change in China proves the value of the sort of personal relationships fostered by the Dunedin-Shanghai sister city relationship, Silver Fern Farms leaders say.

Dunedin-based, global, premium meat exporter Silver Fern Farms (SFF) has about 25 staff in its Shanghai office. They play an important role supporting the company’s growth in one of its biggest and constantly changing markets, chief transformation officer Matt Ballard, who was recently in Shanghai, said.

In many ways SFF, a partnership between the New Zealand farmers’ co-operative and China-based food manufacturer and distributor Shanghai Maling Aquarius, typifies the Dunedin-Shanghai sister city relationship, SFF chief customer officer Dave Courtney said.

"Not only has this partnership supported the growth of Silver Fern Farms, but we have also seen the cultural connections that can grow between countries through trade and business."

SFF began doing business in China in 1994, the same year the sister city agreement between Shanghai and Dunedin was signed.

Eight years ago, Shanghai Maling spent $267 million to take a half share in New Zealand’s biggest meat processor, which was making strong gains in the China market. From 2011 to 2017, SFF total product into China rose from 11,000 tonnes to 60,000 tonnes, a more than five-fold increase.

Last year, SFF opened a new Shanghai hub in upmarket Jing’an district as the base for its China operations.

Mr Ballard, who spent a week at the Shanghai office towards the end of June, said having a team of Chinese staff on the ground there was vital in a country where change was rapid.

"New Zealand companies won't be successful trying to sell to Chinese consumers if they try to do that just from New Zealand — you've got to have a presence," he said.

"Even this week, I've seen things which I haven’t seen in my five or six previous trips."

By way of example, Mr Ballard cited Chinese online retailer Dingdong, which was delivering a small amount of SFF product to Shanghai consumers.

"They guarantee 29 minutes or less delivery time, in Shanghai, from point of order online.

"And this isn’t coffee; this is sometimes very valuable fresh produce.

"One of their most popular items is fresh flowers. That’s remarkable."

Throughout its time in China, SFF had proudly supported the Dunedin-Shanghai sister city relationship, Mr Courtney said.

Last year, SFF hosted Shanghai vice-mayor Hua Yuan and representatives of Shanghai Maling’s parent company Bright Food Group, at its Dunedin offices.

The vice-mayor encouraged SFF to continue its support of the sister city relationship.

"Ultimately, strong business relationships are built through strong personal and cultural relationships," Mr Courtney said.

"I'd encourage any Dunedin-based businesses to engage with the sister city framework if they are looking to start business in Shanghai or grow their existing business."