Organic Food Trend Sprouts in Hong Kong
By W. Garth Thorburn II
After several recent food safety crisis--including contaminated fish, listeria in ice cream, the chicken flu (H5NI) virus and high levels of pesticides found in vegetables--Hong Kong consumers are turning to organic foods. As the demand increases for foods produced without any chemicals or pesticides, export opportunities for U.S. organic foods appear to be growing.
Historically, local demand for organic products came mostly from the large Western expatriate communities, but recently the demand for organic foods has expanded to include local Chinese and expatriate Japanese. Todays shoppers are very receptive to promotions that highlight organic products, and they are willing to pay 30 to 100 percent more for organic foods.
A privately owned company is the leading supplier of Hong Kongs organic foods. Organic Gardens Ltd., located in Cheung Lek village, teaches local consumers and visitors about the benefits of organic farming and a healthy lifestyle.
Last year, the company expanded its educational campaign by opening a restaurant in Hong Kongs trendy Lan Kwai Fong district. In addition, Organic Gardens Ltd. has opened an organic food retail shop and a natural healing center. Looking to the future, the company plans to establish a vegetarian restaurant in Mong Kok to cater to the traditional tastes of the Chinese.
Currently, Hong Kong consumers place great importance on the outward appearance of organic foods. For example, organic vegetables must be consistent in size and have a rich, deep color. But consumers are now learning that outward appearance alone is not an accurate indicator of wholesomeness and flavor.
Hong Kongs Farmers Pursue Organic Methods
Some of the local farmers in Hong Kong have embraced the non-chemical methods of organic farming. But Hong Kongs high labor costs prevent many farmers from pursuing natural farming on a larger scale.
Thats why theyre eager to share their knowledge of organic farming methods and work with mainland Chinese organizations, such as the South China Agricultural University in Guangdong Province. Production increases in Chinese organic vegetables could reduce prices for organic foods sold in Hong Kong, since labor and land costs are lower in China.
The good news for U.S. organic food suppliers is that further development of Hong Kongs organic consumer market and farming industry will likely produce new opportunities for U.S. exporters of organic imports as well.
The author is the Deputy Director of the Agricultural Trade Office in Hong Kong. Tel.: 852-2841-2350; Fax: 852-2845-0943; E-mail: 106122.2744@Compuserve.com