On A Mission In China

One of my favourite memories from the trade mision to China in November happened at Bester Foods in Guangzhou. Bester Foods imports food from around the world, including a lot of Canadian beef and seafood, for the Chinese market. As vice president of the Canadian Canola Growers Associaiton board, I was part of a Canadian farm business delegation who were in China as part of Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Lawrence MacAulay’s trade mision, and the delegation stopped at Bester Foods on a business tour through Guangzhou. Bester Foods showed us a promotion video for their products. In one scene, a chef was frying beef and the fryer was smoking quite a bit. We then had an actual cooking demonstration, during which I asked Bester Foods General Manager Steve Mo which oil the chef was using. I added, “Canola oil, with its high heat tolerance and mild flavour, would work well in Chinese kitchens.”

It led to a good conversation with Bester Foods Operations Director Yvonne Chen. Others from the Canadian delegation listened in. At the end, Manitoba farmer Ray Mazinke, vice president of the Prairie Oat Growers Association, said to the group: “Canola grower Bernie McClean single-handedly changes how Bester Foods frieds.”

It was a good line, and we laughed, but it was more than that. In those few minutes, one influential importer got thinking more about Canadian canola oil, I got a chance to know Ray a little better, which led to further conversations about the unique challenges and common opportunities for oats and canola trade with China, and it underlined the value of being part of these trade missions. Bringing farmers along helps the ag minister and his team create these potential business relationships.

The mission included stops in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Beijing from November 11-22. While on the mission, I presented the canola growers’ perspective at a few extra events organized by the Canola Council of Canada (CCC). These were a meal event with researchers and feed industry representatives in Guangzhou on November 15, a canola oil media event in Guangzhou on November 16 and the Canola Dialogue in Beijing on November 20.

The canola meal seminar attracted approximately 40 representatives from Chinese feed mills. While Chinese dairies are starting to learn of the value of canola meal in their rations, this seminar was an opportunity to explain recent research showing that pigs fed canola meal grow as well as pigs fed soybean meal.

At the canola oil event in Guangzhou, the CCC highlighted canola oil’s nutritional and health benefits to media and other influencers. In addition to my presentation, Minister MacAulay spoke on the importance of canola trade between Canada and China, Chef Ken Liang did a Cantonese cooking demo using canola oil and Chinese nutritional expert Dr. Nancy Liu talked about the health benefits of Canadian canola oil. Dr. Liu is a phenomenal person to have on the ground in China.

The discussion following the oil event really highlighted the importance of the work the CCC does with market development in China. I had a great talk about the health and cooking benefits of canola oil with someone that I expected would have known all of these attributes. That was the “a-ha moment” for me. Great work has been done but in order to market the extra five million tonnes of canola that we as growers are aiming to produce by 2025, there is clearly more work to do.

The Canola Dialogue in Beijing was a new and hopefully annual event to bring togehter the organizations that can keep canola trade between Canada and China open, predictable and growing. During the Dialogue, Minister MacAulay witnessed the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the CCC and China Chamber of Commerce of Import and Export of Foodstuffs, Native Produce and Animal By-Products (CFNA). The MOU includes provisions such as communicating on regulations affecting trade and working together to facilitate industry meetings and exchanges.

On the mission, I learned how important market access to China is for Canadian canola trade. China is the top market for Canadian canola seed, buying just under four million tonnes through the 2016-17 crop year. China also accounted for 26% of Canadian canola oil exports in that period, second to the U.S., and 19% of meal exports, also second to the U.S. In all, Canadian canola trade to China in 2016-17 was $3.4 billion – 30.6% of the total value of Canadian canola exports.

For us to sell another five million tonnes globally, sales to China will probably increase – as long as we can maintain fair and stable access to this market.

We have a long way to go in telling consumers in China about canola and showing how it can fit well with their cooking practices and health objectives. I had been under the mistaken impression that everyone must know this already, but they don’t. Ongoing CCC efforts in China and CCGA participation in trade missions are all part of the long process of market development and continued market access. I was thrilled to be able to do my part.