Dairy products, vegetables and flowers from The Netherlands – a world leader in agri- and horticulture – can be found in supermarkets in all corners of the world. Despite the good reputation of Dutch farmers and growers, it took the pepper industry no less eight years to gain access to the Chinese market. Matthijs Jasperse of the company FVO China BV, an initiative by growers’ cooperatives, explains how the Dutch peppers eventually received the ‘safe’ stamp from Chinese authorities.
Almost every day, KLM planes fly thousands of fresh and colorful peppers to three major hubs in China. Upon arrival, local distributors take care of the logistic process to get the yellow, red, orange and striped fresh produce to stores in the Beijing, Shanghai and Huangzhou regions. In stores like ParkNShop, JiaJiaYue and Sams Club, Chinese consumers pick up the product, inspect the ‘Dutch Valley’ logo and add them into their shopping cart on their way to the cashier.
Peppers in Chinese cuisine
“Peppers are definitely part of the Chinese cuisine”, says Matthijs Jasperse, who represents Dutch pepper growers in the FVO cooperative. “Exporting fresh product from abroad to China generally faces two major barriers: first of all, China is a large vegetable production country that is not used to depend on production from abroad. Second, it wants to make sure that no foreign organisms, like flies and bugs get introduced into the country by accident. It took eight years to overcome these barriers. Last year, we finally got the green light to introduce top quality peppers the Chinese market.” There is more: players in the Chinese market has more experience in dealing with importing fruit from all over the world, but importing vegetables is still more or less an uncharted area. “The only vegetables that made it to the Chinese market so far are asparagus from Peru, pumpkins from New Zealand and red beet from Australia. And now, peppers from The Netherlands.”
Obviously, the Dutch did their homework. They did extensive market research, interviewing many thousands of Chinese about their food preferences. Market tests and sampling revealed a great among Chinese consumers in high-quality food products. “I remember doing some field research myself in one of the large Chinese cities. In the vegetable store, I bought some locally produced peppers. I tried a bite of some of them and offered my driver and guide to taste. She would not touch it, as she clearly distrusted the product. This experience taught the importance of trust”, says Matthijs Jasperse, referring to the food scandals that shocked Chinese consumers in the past.
A new brand: Dutch Valley
The growers hired BSUR agency (read BSUR story on Club China) to develop a new brand name and logo – Dutch Valley - tapping into the image of the Netherlands as the Silicon Valley of agriculture. Also, FVO found distributors that were familiar with handling fresh produce and that could answer the high-quality demands of the Dutch. Meanwhile, the most important hurdle was still to be taken: “Getting the approval of the Chinese agriculture and health authorities. After the first negotiations had been finished on a high government level, it took a long time of negotiating protocols and dealing with the steep food safety demands.”
The most challenging demands were related to production and transport. “To name just two of the most important requirements: for the Chinese market, the peppers were not to mix with product streams intended for other countries. This meant that we had to carefully separate a part of production. And to maintain the separation during transport and handling at airports. Also, the pallets with peppers have to be covered with a special net, according to strict quality regulations. This is to ascertain that not bug or fly enters China and nestles itself forever in the fauna habitat.”
Appreciation for high-end products
Jasperse makes it very clear that the growers’ cooperative has had invest heavily in the opportunity to launch its ‘Dutch Valley’ peppers in China. “Slowly but steady, the market is showing its appreciation for the high-end products, the big and tasty red, yellow and orange peppers. We are eager to introduce our special products, like the long, pointed peppers that are sweeter and taste great in salads, the small sweet snack bites which are great for kids. Or the special multicolored peppers, specialty products that don’t just taste great but look great in any dish!”
Being the first producer to export fresh peppers to China, Matthijs Jasperse has high hopes for the future. “I know of other initiatives, from other countries, to open the market for fresh produce. Many failed, most often because they acted as individual exporters that lack the deep pockets and the patience. Pulling together with the whole industry seems to be the only way. Getting the green light to many years of patience and perseverance – but now we are ready to harvest, in a business sense.”