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Finnair Cargo helps Nordic food producers capitalise on rising gourmet demand in Asia

There is clear upward demand for Nordic gourmet foods and beverages in Asia. Export growth in China has risen more than 50 per cent from last year, while Japan has seen growth of 23 per cent. Japan has imported Finnish poultry products, meats and eggs since March 2018, with South Korea following suit. Hong Kong and Japan are buying more Finnish pork.

Finland and the Nordics have an excellent reputation in Asia for their high quality of life, clean nature and sustainability, and their consistently high placings in global rankings that measure these things. With design and lifestyle, the Nordics have a solid image of elegant simplicity mixed with a lot of cool.

On top of that, Nordic food production is unparalleled in safety and quality across the whole supply chain, which gives Nordic exports a perceived edge.

“Cleanliness and trustworthiness may be clichés about the Nordics, but in this part of the world, people don't take those things for granted,” says Gitta Hägg-Lundvall, executive director at the Finnish Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong.

A Nordic Food China market report by consultancy agency Kuudes shows that freshness in particular, plays an important role in Chinese cuisine – as it does in other Asian cuisines. Thus, it is vital to demonstrate to Asian consumers that foodstuffs remain fresh even when travelling across long distances, and that the most reliable and advanced storage and handling procedures are followed.

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Temperatures during transit are carefully monitored to ensure product integrity. On Finnair's ultra-modern wide-body Airbus fleet cargo hold temperatures are monitored and adjusted from the cockpit.

The report also identifies massive potential for Nordic food brands in China, but inability to see the potential is preventing some brands – especially smaller ones – from exploiting the vast Chinese market and the growing interest in Nordic food products there.

Open to a new food adventure

Cuilu Fan, senior advisor at Business Finland, is part of an initiative to promote Nordic food abroad called Food from Finland, which is focussed on the global promotion and export of Finnish foods. Part of Fan’s job with the Food from Finland project is to help educate and prepare Finnish companies to make as strong an entry as possible into external markets.

Fan confirms that there is a need for some changes in attitude on the part of Nordic companies. “I often get asked at trade shows the same question from potential importers: What do we have to offer the Asian market? It’s a combination of high-quality, safe, pure and healthy with an innovative and interesting touch,” Fan says.

Fan points out that since China has undergone a huge transformation in recent decades from an impoverished country into the world’s leading consumer market, people are becoming more adventurous.

“Two of the main factors behind the rising interest in Nordic products is a booming middle-class that is more financially secure and willing to experiment and indulge their curiosities, especially with healthy snacks. The other big factor is that young Chinese are bringing flavours and influences back home after studying abroad. They are exerting a real influence on the appeal of imported Nordic products.”

Some brands that are steadily establishing their market presence in China include Kesko’s Tmall Global store, Valio, HKScan, Atria, various Finnish water brands and Fazer.

However, Fan points out that while there is strong potential for Nordic produce, there is still work to be done. “It will take considerable effort, investment and patience for more widespread Nordic food and beverage brand visibility in the Chinese market,” she says.

Nordic brands making a mark

Hägg-Lundvall of the Finnish Chamber of Commerce has noticed a greater curiosity in Nordic food products in markets in Hong Kong. “I have definitely noticed some hype about Nordic food and beverages. Consumers are curious about these new products,” she says.

Even in the smaller shops in Hong Kong, Hägg-Lundvall has already seen a few familiar products. “Bonne juices, Raisio Benecol yoghurts and Taiga chocolates are all readily available in my corner shop, but there are quite a few Finnish food and beverage brands that are available elsewhere in Hong Kong, too, such as Hartwall, Ägräs Distillery, Arctic Brands Group and Finlandia Caviar to name just a few.”