Jostein Rortvert, Jeff Welbourn , January 14, 2020

Stupendous Market for Stable Surimi in China

On the ninth day of its mission trip to China, GAPP visited with Ding Wei Tai, a leading producer of Wild Alaska Pollock surimi seafood products in China, to learn about the opportunity for surimi in this market. GAPP sat down with Trident Seafood’s Jeff Welbourn and American Seafood’s Jostein Rortveit to get their insights on the key learnings from today’s meetings.

Q: What excites you about surimi in the Chinese market?

Jeff: China is the largest surimi market in the world. This has historically been because of locally grown fresh water surimi, much of which is not recorded in traditional commercial records. But the past several years the Chinese consumer has begun to gravitate towards safety and quality, which is what Wild Alaska Pollock offers and Ding Wei Tai values. This development is a beneficial to Wild Alaska Pollock, and China businesses and consumers.

Jostein: The Chinese have a word “Guangxi” which means loyalty and relationships. I think that Wild Alaska Pollock has the opportunity to work with trusted partners like Ding Wei Tai, who are doing things the right way, and really create a brand for Wild Alaska Pollock surimi seafood products here in this market. China under-indexes on surimi seafood consumption when you compare their consumption to other leading markets like South Korea or Japan, Chinese consumers on a per capita basis consume less than 1/10th of their Korean or Japanese counterparts. So, we have a huge opportunity grow a market that is underdeveloped and deliver high quality protein to Chinese consumers.

Q: What’s next for surimi here in China and our partnership with Ding Wei Tai?

Jeff: We heard Ding Wei Tai talk about sustainability today but not in the traditional sense of the word. Instead, they spoke about how sustainability means having access to a steady supply of raw material, which in their case is Wild Alaska Pollock. It’s clear they respect and prefer our fish for their products because of its consistent quality and the story behind the Alaska resource. Now we just have to figure out (trade war aside) how maintain supply and messaging support that will meet their demand and help grow their business.

Jostein: Ding Wei Tai started as a company that was importing Japanese product, then they started producing but in producing they were only imitating the traditional Japanese, and now they’re creating unique products exclusively for the Chinese market. That’s exciting, but what’s more exciting is how they’re re-energizing and reinventing surimi seafood products in China and building a brand that stands for quality—which is so important here. Ding Wei Tai is using the same high inclusion rate of surimi as the traditional Japanese companies in their surimi seafood products, which leads to a better tasting product and gets Chinese consumers excited about surimi again, because of its taste and quality. That’s a huge change from the surimi seafood of the past here in China.

Q: How is surimi being utilized here in China and where is there potential for growth?

Jeff: We’ve talked a lot about hot pot restaurants on this trip, as it’s the number one application for Alaska surimi here in China. Hot pot chains have seen incredible growth the last few years. It’s always been a popular meal choice but the new popularity is due to younger people craving the social aspect of hot pot, the variety of proteins and flavors available (including surimi), and a scalable budget in one meal. Surimi-based fish balls are a popular traditional item in hot pot, sure, and partners like Ding Wei Tai are helping major chains upgrade the quality of products offered. But they are also offering a wide variety of other surimi products in these and other restaurants. That’s a huge opportunity for us as an industry.

Jostein: I’m excited about all the applications beyond hot pot. Yes, hot pot is huge. But as the CEO of Ding Wei Tai said today, surimi can fit into more than 100 Chinese eating applications and be sold in almost every channel—from convenience store to high-end specialty retail store, to QSR chain and more. That’s an incredible opportunity for us to continue to get more Wild Alaska Pollock—a quality, consistently sustainable product—in front of more consumers here in China in more ways every day. That’s exciting and something we a hundred percent need to capitalize on.

Jostein: I’m excited about all the applications beyond hot pot. Yes, hot pot is huge. But as the CEO of Ding Wei Tai said today, surimi can fit into more than 100 Chinese eating applications and be sold in almost every channel—from convenience store to high-end specialty retail store, to QSR chain and more. That’s an incredible opportunity for us to continue to get more Wild Alaska Pollock—a quality, consistently sustainable product—in front of more consumers here in China in more ways every day. That’s exciting and something we a hundred percent need to capitalize on.

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