The Beijing firm Zhuo Chen Animal Husbandry has partnered up with the Jingkelong supermarket chain to market chilled Australian beef, served in western style cuts for home cooking. Producers of the range are seeking to test home-consumption demand among Chinese consumers who have grown familiar with barbeques through the expansion of Brazilian-style barbequed meat chains around the country.
China is about to start the annual week-long National Day holiday - this year it coincides with mid-Autumn festival (4 October) – which sees a peak in consumption and dining from 1 October.
The Zhuo Chen point of sale marketing material claims the beef is “an exclusive supply” of “black Angus” beef from Australia to its factory in Beijing. It appears the firm imports carcasses for processing in Beijing. The meat is labelled (in Chinese) as ‘Barbeque beef steaks’ while another sticker on each pack declares in Chinese characters that the beef is ‘Barley beef’.
Zhuochen in a statement said it has an agreement with Golden Garden Farm in Perth which sees the two sharing breeding know how as well as supplying Australian beef to the Chinese retail market. The two also “share breeding bases” in Australia according to Zhuo Chen.
Zhuo Chen has “strategic supply and marketing arrangement” with Jingkelong and another chain, Yonghui. Jingkelong stores visited recently by this writer had several staff on a Zhuo Chen counter to push the products. Cuts are priced from RMB29.80 per 500g of mince to RMB199/kg and RMB212/kg for steaks. 1kg packs of small steaks sell for RMB198.
Interestingly, staff at Jingkelong sought to sell the meat as “breakfast food” and “health food”, clearly an effort to widen the consumption of beef. Staff also described health benefits of eating the beef, telling this writer that children and old people could derive “stronger bodies” from eating the steaks.
The Chinese dragon
Formally established in 1999 as a halal-focused processor of beef and lamb, Zhuo Chen also has a “strategic relationship” with the Dutch firm Van Drie Group for the supply of beef genetics and breeding advice. The company claims to breed 100,000 head of cattle and 30,000 sheep per year in its farms in Inner Mongolia, northwest China.
Clearly well connected in China Zhuo Chen claims to be a “dragon head” company – a term given by local government to local corporate champions. It made its name as a provider to the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and claims to have provided the meat served to dignitaries participating in a giant 2015 military parade commemorating China’s liberation after the Second World War.
Aside from its Australian beef Zhuochen is also listed by Chinese customs as an importer of meat from Brazilian giant JBS. The firm is also seeking to import US beef, company executives told the China Economic Daily, a local business title, recently.
Certainly, Zhuo Chen is changing the way beef is being marketed in Chinese retail. Teaming up with Zhuo Chen is step upmarket for Jingkelong, which is owned by the Beijing government. Up till recently Jingkelong stores in Beijing featured a cutting stall where Halal certified staff wearing a hat commonly worn by China’s muslim Hui minority would cut down carcasses fresh to be weighed and bagged directly for consumers.