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China Daily Global / 2021-04 / 22 / Page008

Berry firm Driscoll's eyes rich pickings

By HE WEI in Shanghai | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-04-22 00:00

US-based fresh berry grower and seller Driscoll's is planning to triple its business in China over the next five years, as a growing number of affluent families in the country are pursuing nutritious and healthy dining habits, a senior company executive said.

While the volume of its fruits harvested in China-blueberries, raspberries and blackberries-grew from a meager 500 metric tons in 2016 to around 10,000 tons last year, the company aims to triple that number by 2025 in light of the "huge consumption potential", said Jae Moon Chun, Driscoll's vice-president and general manager in China.

"What we see as a macro trend, especially among the young, is (the desire) to have some form of health incorporated in their lives," he said.

Whereas annual berry consumption in developed economies like the United States, Europe or Australia is around 1.5 kilograms on a per capita basis, Chun said the figure in China among middle and upper-income groups reaches only about one clamshell, which in Driscoll's case refers to around 125 grams.

"Over time, China potentially can be as big as, if not bigger than, the biggest fresh berry market in the world, which currently is the United States," he said, adding that China has registered the fastest growth across four regional markets including North America, Europe and Australia.

The typical customer profile for Driscoll's is female aged between 25 and 40 years old, who is keen on wholesome foods that have health benefits and taste good.

This accords with a latest research by consultancy CBNData, in which younger generation of women are seen spending a significantly higher proportion on food and snacks that are rich in fiber or protein, or contain antioxidants.

Chun said that the rise of e-commerce and other digital channels has also lent a helping hand in popularizing berries among local consumers, given that the fruits are traditionally more commonplace in retailer marketplaces in the West.

"While first-tier city residents have more exposure by traveling more internationally, and they have more foreigners who typically know about these brands… I see more commonalities of consumers across all city tiers: expect high-quality fruits," he said.

The company sells through the country's premium offline and booming online channels, working with high-end marketplaces from Ole, Costco, Sam's, Walmart, Pagoda to Hema, JD Fresh and others. Apart from the hybrid model that plays out in major cities, key regional retailers are critical to Driscoll's penetration into smaller cities and townships.

Targeted market education is also carried out to promote raspberries and black berries, which currently make up 20 percent of all berries in China.

With four production bases all located in Yunnan province, the company conducts breeding experiments in local farms, testing the feasibility of growing new berry varieties that are bigger, crispier or sweeter.

Chun said the company will stay in the fresh produce category, and maintain its premium pricing strategy, owing to the costly smart agriculture system (they use substrates to grow the fruits) to human labor to handpicking the fragile fruits.

"I feel flattered when some Chinese think we are a Chinese company, because that's what we aspire to be," Chun said. "Our commitment in having majority of our berries grown in China shows the level of commitment to benefit China, especially in the less economically-developed parts, as we do our modern agriculture business."

As per the China Horticulture Board, the country is the largest producer of fresh berries in the world. It produced 3.3 million tons of berries in 2019. The country also exports over 95 percent to 97 percent of its raspberries to other parts of the world, according to a report by Mordor Intelligence.


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