As China’s growing middle class, particularly in large urban areas, becomes more health conscious and actively involved in their food choices, small-scale pig farmers are stepping up to meet consumer demand for natural, healthier meat. “A lot of consumers are who are worried about safety issues are going organic. They’re willing to pay a premium. What this means is more marketing opportunity for the smaller scale pig farms,” said Even Pay, chief product officer of Smart Agriculture Analytics (SAA), a business intelligence provider on China’s agritech market. In some cases this means going through China’s rigorous organic certification process. In all cases it means more attention to health standards from feeding to slaughter.
China currently has over 1,000 feed producers that are producing fermented and biological feed and feed additives. Some of these are liquid feed products, but since a lot of the domestic Chinese industry associations fail to draw the distinction between liquid and non-liquid feed, an accurate number is difficult to name. While Chinese pig feed producers have a reputation for using questionable additives in their byproducts, some are listening to consumer concerns and switching to healthy and/or organic additives such as citrus peels and green tea. Green tea has long been used as a byproduct in pig food, but what has changed in recent years is how it is marketed.
Green tea as a healthy additive and marketing strategy
After the full-leaf tea is harvested and packaged, additional tea byproducts are processed into the fermented feed products. Pay said, “We see a lot of tea as an additive in swine feed over here pretty regularly, but what’s interesting is the literature promoting green tea byproducts is using some of the same antioxidant and health-related benefits we hear about tea for human consumption and applying those same claims to the outcome for livestock.”
A number of studies have been conducted during the past 10 years about the possible benefits of feeding green tea to pigs. A recent one published by Hossain, Ko, Park, Firman and Yang in Animal Publication Science concluded that green tea additives “exerts positive effects on weight gain, meat composition, blood parameters and immunity in pigs.”
Promoting green tea dovetails with another pork marketing campaign: heritage hog breeds. Pay said, “In addition to marketing something like a healthy tea additive, there is also a marketing effort with Chinese heritage pigs. Some of the oldest breeds and best genetics have turned into the leading hybrid breeds around the world, and there are a few farms here that are producing heritage pork. A lot of times it will be a breed of hog that takes maybe twice as long to grow to full weight but is of the quality that consumers are looking for in terms of flavor and the meat to fat ratio.”
Technology brings innovations in marketing
Along with the changes in content marketing to China’s middle class, the marketing medium is also changing as the Internet becomes more instrumental in launching campaigns. According to Pay, “There’s a lot of synergy between a young tech savvy investor class and urban consumers open to buying their meat online. They really want to know details about where their meat is coming from, what is going into its production, how it’s getting from the farm to the table and who is profiting.”
Organically certified small-scale pork production operations have opened up shops online where they are serving mainly higher-end customers in urban areas. These online portals include a grocery where they can establish shop and showcase how they are producing their pork. Many will list what feed and additives are used and, in the case of green tea, may have more in depth articles on antioxidants and preventative health. They can show pictures of their farms and pigs. Pay noted that some farms track a pig throughout its entire life span, and then when it’s time for slaughter, consumers will bid on the meat from that individual pig they’ve been following.
This kind of soft-sale marketing that focuses on education rather than a quick sale is especially effective among China’s educated middle class. From the consumer end, Chinese buyers, especially in the bigger cities, are thinking a lot more about food safety when they’re buying in the market.