By KEVIN WALKER
SHANGHAI, China — A state of Michigan delegation wrapped its tour of China last week in an effort to boost prospects for Michigan businesses in the populous nation.
“Well, on the mission, we’re focused on strengthening our relationships in China, as well as creating business opportunities in Michigan,” said Jamie Clover Adams, director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD).
“We know that there’s great opportunities and great potentials in China for high-quality food products produced right here in Michigan. We also know that Chinese consumers want Western-type foods and that their middle class continues to grow. This just creates great opportunities for Michigan.”
According to a statement released by MDARD, state officials met with businesspeople from Michigan who are doing business in China and who want to expand their enterprises there. They also met with USDA Agricultural Trade Office officials, toured the LongWu Wholesale Market, as well as retail markets, and potential and current Chinese buyers.
Clover Adams said the purpose of the trip was more for building relationships than signing any specific agreements. She added that in Chinese culture it’s important to introduce oneself and sort of “work your way up” the hierarchy: it’s a kind of social etiquette.
She said the Chinese don’t trust vegetables and other agricultural products made in China. She added it’s because the society hasn’t developed uniform phytosanitary standards or reliable methods of enforcing what standards it does have. Chinese consumers are interested in products from abroad they feel they can trust, which could open doors for more U.S. products.
She said, for example, this could mean companies producing shelf-stable milk might have an “in” into the Chinese market, as well as producers of powdered milk.
Gov. Rick Snyder also went on the mission, trying to get Chinese investors to invest in Michigan businesses. He went to different cities in China and met with CEOs from companies at the different locations. “He was doing what I was doing, more building relationships,” Clover Adams said.
One of the Michigan companies benefiting from trade with China is Graceland Fruit located in Frankfort, which is to the north and west of Traverse City in the northwestern Lower Peninsula. Frankfort is in Benzie County, right off the shores of Lake Michigan.
“This mission is critical in helping solidify our ties with importers, marketers and government trade officials in China,” said Brent Bradley, vice president for sales and marketing for Graceland Fruit. “Consumers around the world are demanding healthier foods and our products fit that niche perfectly.”
Bradley said because of the company’s extensive product line, it’s able to ship a variety of Michigan agricultural products to Asia in one container. These include cherries, apples and blueberries.
“This capability, coupled with a strong distribution system, has helped Graceland to increase year-over-year sales in China by 300 percent,” he explained.
Bradley added relationships are critical in developing offshore sales. He noted the trip is taking on added importance since the company is planning to introduce its products into the Beijing and Hong Kong retail markets this fall. Clover Adams said she met with buyers of Graceland Fruit products while in China, and she thought it was helpful for the company.
Graceland Fruit describes itself as a leading producer of fruit products. These include infused dried fruits such as cherries, cranberries, wild and cultivated blueberries and apples. It also makes fruit concentrate juice and a line of frozen fruit products under its Soft-N-Frozen brand.
Its products are sold in the United States as well as 40-plus other countries around the world. Last year it earned the state’s Agricultural Exporter of the Year award. The trade mission began on Sept. 18 and concluded Sept. 27.