After easing of restrictions, a COVID wave quickly moved through China at the start of the year. Now that the wave has eased, Chinese consumers are quickly returning according to U.S. Meat Export Federation China Director Polly Zhao.
"It's not only the food service, it's all the related sectors like hotel and accommodations, passenger logistics, transportations and retailers, and movies, they're all coming back," Zhao says. "So this is all good signs."
USMEF Senior Vice President for Asia Pacific Joel Haggard notes that Chinese consumers built up savings during the COVID lockdown and they are now ready to spend, which should bode well for pork and beef consumption.
"So we're starting this year on a really positive footing because you have this economy that's going to bounce back, the Chinese government is going to stimulate the economy to bring back that GDP level, the consumers are going to be out wanting to spend," Haggard says. "Their accumulated savings last year grew by a few trillion dollars - it's just unprecedented. They're going to want to spend that money. They're still pulling out of it as of this early February time period. But going into Q2, everyone is expecting really a full return to normalcy."
Haggard is retiring later this year and is working closely with USMEF Vice President for Asia Pacific Jihae Yang – USMEF's longtime Korea director – to develop a new strategy for the China market focused on the evolving needs of the market's consumers.
"We don't know exactly how the product flow into the market," says Yang. "We don't know the exact channel that U.S. product is flowing in to the end users in the China market. So my strategy in China is to mapping out how the flow of the product flows from the exporters, to the importers to the distributors to the end users eventually, and then try to understand the flow and the distribution channel, and then identify the needs of the individual segments that we can address."
In 2022, the United States exported 243,500 metric tons of beef to China at a value of $2.2 billion, setting value and volume records. Pork exports to China last year totaled 534,500 mt, valued at $1.4 billion.