Commentary

See all articles

Chinese New Year: Seafood's gold-paved path to profit

The gathering of all gatherings, the opportunity for imported seafood at China's Spring Festival, is huge.

“Get out or stock up… oh, and buy earplugs,” was the advice of a friend of mine as my first Spring Festival as a resident of China approached.

Chinese New Year: Are you missing a trick?

Read more

In my naivety I ignored her advice that year, but followed it strictly for the three following.

Unable to board a train or bus, crowded out of restaurants and local sights and kept awake all night by an incessant bombardment of firecrackers and fireworks, Chinese New Year, when celebrated in China, is by far the most all-encompassing festival I have ever witnessed, anywhere I have ever lived.

A month of retail fever, dumpling making, lion dances and red and gold signage is followed by a mass exodus of cities, clogging roads and almost bringing China’s railway system to its knees.

The Chinese government’s aggressive urbanization drive means that many of China’s younger generations have been forced to move to cities for work, sometimes hundreds of miles from home, leaving behind children, parents and grandparents.

This socioeconomic dynamic creates an incredible spectacle of movement at Chinese New Year, which some cite as the largest annual human migration in the world.

Many Chinese businesses shut down for two weeks or more and a large percentage of China’s burgeoning population loads up with gifts and crowds onto every form of transport available, sometimes taking journeys days in length in uncomfortable conditions in order to spend time with friends and family.

It is Christmas on Acid.

And as with Christmas, and most other cultural or religious celebrations, food plays a key role.

As with most things in China, which foods are eaten has fascinating symbolism.

For anyone who has ever taken a stab at learning Mandarin you will know that word and sound play are deeply intertwined with Chinese culture and many traditions have complex connections to the sounds or characters that denote Chinese language. This has traveled into the modern day and extends to everything from branding to what name you call your child.

IntraFish's 15 most-read opinion pieces of 2018

Read more

Take Coca-Cola. It is pronounced "Kekoukele" in China, which, in Chinese means "tasty fun." So not only does it sound like Coca-Cola, it also sounds like Coca-Cola. Reebok is "Rui bu" or "quick steps" and Nike is "Nai ke" or "enduring and persevering." And there are many other examples.

Fortunately for the seafood industry, the Mandarin for the word fish - “yu” - sounds a lot like the Mandarin word for abundance. Wealth being one of the strands of the Chinese New Year celebration, fish is therefore deemed an integral part of the festivities.

In most Chinese households this fish was traditionally carp, but as wealth increases, alongside exposure to foreign culture and imported product, there is a growing amount of higher value species being consumed and with it, rising opportunity for other seafood to take its place at the Chinese New Year dinner table, Jerry Chang, founder and CEO of Chinese processor Chang International told me when I spoke with him this week.

There is also a handy Chinese proverb Chang tells me: "There is no banquet without fish," that is taken so literally that in years past when many Chinese families could not afford fish for a celebration, a wooden ornamental one would be placed on the table instead.

Gift giving is also a large part of Chinese New Year but unlike in Western culture, gifts are traditionally consumer goods such as alcohol, tobacco and food.

Walk into any Chinese supermarket at Chinese New Year and it feels a little like you've taken a mild hallucinogen, such is the blur of lurid gaud.

Your favorite fruits, chocolate, juice, tea, baijiu (a dangerous Chinese spirit which should only be drunk if you literally have nothing to achieve in the next two days) and even laundry detergent can be found in heavily decorative multi-packs specifically for the purpose of giving to family and friends in the lead up to Chinese New Year.

And in recent years, seafood has taken its place among these packages. Chang International, who creates the gift sets year round, sells an astounding one third of them in the month leading up to Chinese New Year.

“[Today] gift-giving in China is not limited to tobacco and alcohol products, high-end aquatic gift bags have become an important part,” shrimp trader Siam Canadian Guangzhou Domestic Sales Manager, Luozhao, told me.

And these purchases happen across all platforms: supermarkets, wet markets, online and offline, with wider spread access to internet meaning even the most rural of China's communities are taking advantage of the country's booming online retail opportunities.

Just as Christmas and Thanksgiving are a gift to turkey farmers, Chinese New Year is a gift to the seafood industry and for those in the know, an incredible opportunity to take a slice of this lucrative market.

Comments? Email rachel.mutter@intrafish.com

Latest news
Most read