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Beijing is  not only the political and cultural center of China, but also the economic hub of Northern and Western China.  As one of China’s largest and wealthiest cities and home to the central government and many national organizations, Beijing is an important market for U.S. and European exporters.  

Beijing is one of the wealthiest cities in China. We had to be there and offer opportunities to our customers!

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Export to China : new opportunities in Beijing.

 Primary consumers for U.S. food products are a large and growing population of well-educated, urban and affluent middle class residents. These increasingly well informed and educated consumers seek high-quality, safe, diverse, and fashionable products.  

The Food & Beverages Market

With recent surges in housing, automobile ownership, and travel expenditures, Beijingers are clearly interested in the quality of life. Natural and organic products have become a standard fixture in the market as affluent consumers seek   improved health.

Retail food, beverage and tobacco sales reached $5.1 billion in 2008, a 21.4 % increase from 2007.

Retail Sector

A large number of international retailers have set up operations in Beijing alongside local operators. In 2008, retail sales of consumer goods totaled $65.7 billion, a 20 % increase over 2007.

Competition is extremely intense in Beijing as more stores with higher standards are built and local consumers demand diverse and higher quality food at competitive prices. International hypermarket operators include Carrefour, the largest with twelve hypermarket outlets, followed by Wal-Mart with four stores and Sam’s Club, Metro and Tesco -- with two hypermarkets each. In order to lure more customers, most hypermarkets provide free parking facilities and shuttle bus service as well as adjacent shopping and entertainment complexes. Special aisles dedicated to imported food products are often arranged by country of origin. A large variety of imported foods such as cheese, butter, and other dairy products, cereal, cookies, coffee, candy, beverages, wine and snack food are represented in such supermarkets, with products from the United States, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, France, Canada, Italy, Australia, and Korea among them.   

Supermarkets operated by local companies include CRV, Wu Mart, Hua Pu, Jenny Lou’s, etc., with CRV the largest (ten upscale Ole Supermarkets) targeting upper-income and middle-class consumers and expatriates. More than 50 % of the products in Ole are imported.

Also, City Shop, a Shanghai based retailer, opened its first store in Beijing near the U.S. Embassy in 2008 targeting expatriate and upper income locals – especially those who have lived or studied overseas. Over 85 % of their products are from the United States, Australia, Europe, and Korea.

 Convenience stores continued to expand in Beijing in 2008 with 7Eleven leading the pack with 69 stores at the end of 2008. Most stores are located near upscale communities and business centers targeting white-collar workers, upper-middle class, and younger consumers who increasingly demand convenience and ready-to-eat items.

Jenny Lou’s, a major upscale food retailer in Beijing, operates twelve specialty stores in Beijing, targeting expatriates, upper to middle income Chinese consumers and others who have lived or studied overseas. Mostly located in high-income/upscale communities or near diplomatic compounds-missions more than 98 % of their products are imported -with more than half from the United States. In particular, breakfast cereals, seasonings, dairy products and wine are of the greatest interest. Jenny Lou reports the economic downtown has had little impact on sales which are down by a modest 5-10 %.

Despite the general slowdown, holiday sales remained strong over the Chinese New Year with staple products expected to increase by 15-16 %. Several major shopping malls reported sales revenues up by as much 33-65 %, even under the current economic environment. Given the importance of gift giving to relationship building, the gift and holiday markets are likely to be very resilient to economic downturns.

Food Service Sector

Now an international crossroads, Beijing diners savor the food and flavors of China’s regional cuisine as well as an expanding range of international options. Restaurants like trendy Element Fresh Restaurant, using modern American cuisine with Asian twists, to Legation Quarter, where five top notch Chinese, French, New York, Spanish and Japanese cuisines are offered, the palates of Beijingers continue to expand along with their pocketbooks.

Today’s Beijing diners are becoming more health conscious when it comes to choose dining outlets and menu items, particularly those with high disposable incomes. This is different compared to just a few years before because now people are willing to try almost anything. According to the Beijing Western Food Association, the number of restaurants serving international cuisine is expected to more than double between 2004 and 2008, from over 1,000 to more than 3,000 restaurants. Price increasingly takes a backseat to perceptions of lifestyle; customers expect that the food will be excellent and have turned their attention to service, ambiance, and, creative restaurant themes.  

Hotel Sector

The hotel sector and upscale stand-alone restaurants are the most promising
markets for U.S. imports. Hotels and restaurants acquire many of their imported products
from local distributors. The high-end part of the HRI sector uses imported products when the
safety or quality of local products is in question, as well as to attract customers with unique,
exotic imports as promotions

Beijing continues to set new records for total rooms each year, and has the highest growth rate of new hotel buildings in Asia. The 2008 Beijing Olympic Games represented a unique opportunity for international lodging companies to establish their brands in Beijing, and throughout China. Shangri-La, Marriott, Hyatt, InterContinental, Accor, Starwood and Hilton are global market leaders in China, and continue to expand their presence in Beijing.

Imported food products make up a very substantial portion of hotel food budgets. Some leading five-star hotels in Beijing  stated that imported food, beverage and wine products account for more than 50 % of overall food-purchasing budgets and estimated that comparable full-service hotels have similar purchasing patterns. Food ingredients and meat products make up the bulk of the imported food purchased by these hotels. 

Beijing’s star-rated hotels do not normally target price-sensitive consumers, but instead focus on business travelers, banquets and company events. In general, chefs and food & beverage directors believe that delicious, high quality food is their highest priority – and price is less important to their customers. Hotel food service operators also concentrate on creating trendy and attractive menus, incorporating high-quality food products emphasizing nutrition and health benefits. According to some chefs, “imported food, including American and European imports offer good food safety and quality control assurances prior to export, so we are very happy to purchase these products. We would also like to learn more about new American food service trends through media, promotion, and chef training to help us stay on the forefront of providing premium food service.”

Beijing’s high-end hotels are ideal venues for introducing new-to-market food and cuisine. Restaurants in international-branded hotels associated with stylish ambience, convenient location, highly trained chefs and wait staff tend to be open to using top-quality ingredients.

Hotel dining has expanded beyond resident guests, with well above 50 % of diners coming from outside the hotel.