The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Trade Office (ATO) in Beijing has been working closely with Chinese retailer Beijing Hualian Group High End Markets (BHG) for several years, building a strong partnership. The Beijing ATO is staffed by Foreign Service Officers from USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), who work in more than 100 offices around the world to establish solid export relationships for U.S. agriculture. In five short years, BHG has become one of the premier retailers of high-end imported foods to domestic Chinese consumers. In addition, BHG’s purchases of U.S. high-value food products jumped from $3 million in the first quarter of 2011 to $7 million in the second quarter.
BHG opened its first store in 2007 and at the time sold a limited number of U.S. products, most of which were in bulk packaging. In 2009, BHG made contact with the Beijing ATO during a U.S. food promotion at Parkson’s Plaza, seeking information on how to source directly from the United States in order to expand their product line and bring down costs. As an immediate result, BHG added Silk soy milk, Nature Valley and Quaker Oats products, among other specialty items, to their product line.
Since that initial connection in 2009, the FAS office in Beijing has worked directly with U.S. agricultural cooperators—or USDA market development program industry partners—and BHG to set up in-store promotional events featuring a wide variety of U.S. agricultural products. BHG also participated in a buyer’s mission in March 2011 to the Natural Products Expo West through the help of the Organic Trade Association, a USDA cooperator. BHG’s participation was an important event, as it allowed senior BHG buyers to not only view and source natural foods, but to meet with and examine products from a wide range of other west-coast based suppliers. As a result, two containers of organic products worth over $40,000 were shipped in April, with additional shipments currently being negotiated.
In recent months, ATO staff members have continued to build on this relationship by accompanying BHG buyers to the SIAL food show in Shanghai where they put BHG in contact with the U.S. Meat Export Federation, a USDA cooperator, resulting in BHG purchases of U.S. pork this summer. In July, the ATO launched a 13-store USA food fair with BHG featuring U.S. craft brew beer and U.S. pork for the first time. FAS Acting Administrator Suzanne Heinen attended one of these in-store promotions during her recent visit to China, witnessing firsthand the positive reception to U.S. agricultural products.
BHG has aggressive expansion plans and, as it expands, it will take its distribution networks with it. The Beijing ATO, in collaboration with the cooperators, hope to keep this partnership alive as the chain expands, giving U.S. food products a foothold in fast-growing cities throughout China.