When Colombian coffee meets China
Wu Jiahang, chief representative of the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation in China, is elaborately preparing coffee beans for the first ever China International Import Expo.
Wu said he is selecting coffee beans from diverse production bases in Colombia, which are expected to draw Chinese coffee consumers' attention at the expo.
"From high-end products to ordinary consumption goods, coffee is a witness who has undergone the opening-up and reform of China," Wu said, noting the coffee market in this tea-drinking country has seen great changes over the past decades.
"We understand that Chinese people like to drink tea, and Colombians didn't believe that our coffee beans could be sold to China at first," said Wu, who was born in the Latin American nation.
He remembers that only very few Chinese people drank coffee when he first arrived in China more than a decade ago. Wu brought Colombian coffee with him, but people thought it had gone bad due to the sour taste.
"Later, more and more Chinese came to know about instant coffee, which left a bitter taste. It was not expensive, but most people had never even seen a coffee bean," Wu added.
Since coffee bean products were only being consumed by the few well-heeled, instant coffee products including Nestle were the main players leading the game in China.
The Chinese coffee market has been growing rapidly over the past few years due to the rise of the Chinese middle class and better living standards. Foreign coffee brands such as Starbucks and Costa have been opening a growing number of shops across the country, while independent coffee outlets have been set up in every corner of commercial districts in China's cities.
"Nowadays, a growing number of Chinese people are preferring freshly ground coffee. Some have even been preferring specific coffee beans produced by certain countries. We are absolutely facing a prosperous and rapidly growing coffee market in China, and the CIIE will definitely be the best opportunity for ensuring that more Chinese coffee drinkers know about our coffee," the representative said.
However, Colombian coffee providers have their worries. They are concerned about the transportation of coffee beans by sea and are not entirely familiar with Chinese consumers' preferences. They are also worried about whether their prices are competitive in comparison with coffee beans from other countries, or whether their products can arouse the interests of Chinese dealers.
"I always tell the Colombians to be braver, and to not question the openness of the Chinese market," said Wu, adding that the key to winning the market is to focus on the acceptance of Chinese consumers.
In the eyes of Wu, opportunities are everywhere, especially at international events. During the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympic Games and the World Expo 2010 Shanghai, he managed to introduce Colombian coffee to audiences and visitors. He believes that each international event provides a unique chance for exchanges between Chinese people and foreigners, because it is a time when more overseas goods are exposed to the nation.
"We work on the CIIE not for orders to be signed during the expo. The more important thing is to know the Chinese market and consumers, and let them know our products and services. We are making preparations for entrance into China," Wu said.
The annual sales of Colombian coffee in China were less than 400 tons 12 years ago. But Wu said the figure is expected to exceed 2,000 tons this year.
China has become one of the largest consumers of coffee in the world, with coffee consumption in the country increasing from 26,000 tons in 2006 to 128,000 tons in 2016.