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Turkeys spread wings in China
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On Thanksgiving Day today, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) hopes to get Chinese foodies talking turkey.


Since 2005, the US state, which raises, processes and exports the most turkeys in the country, has been working to promote Thanksgiving as a holiday, and turkey as a foodstuff, in the Chinese market.


"We're very aware that Chinese like Western holidays, whether it's Valentine's Day, Christmas or other holidays," MDA's agricultural marketing services division director Kurt Markham said.


And as Minnesota Turkey Growers Association (MTGA) Executive Director Steve Olson pointed out: "We're fortunate to have a holiday that features our product, so we'd like to take that and transfer that to the Chinese market."


Because few Chinese have ovens and most have different culinary tastes than Americans, representatives of Minnesota's turkey industry had to cook up new ways of getting Chinese to gobble up more gobblers.


In 2006, they sent a research team to China, which worked with the food science program at Southern Yangtze University in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province, to develop turkey recipes to suit local taste buds. The team returned this September, and the university's dean Huang Weining prepared eight turkey-based dishes, including gongbao turkey (diced turkey with peanuts and hot sauce), turkey-stuffed moon cakes and turkey soup with gingko nuts.


"Cooking turkey in traditional Chinese ways was thought to be a long shot," said Ying Ji, of MDA's agricultural services marketing division. "But the dishes we served succeeded superbly."


Olson said the next step is spreading their recipes for success.


"Our main approach will be to work with restaurants, hotels and food service outlets to introduce turkey to consumers, with the idea of eventually getting them into households."


From 2001 to 2005, China imported 486,000 tons of turkey, with all of the whole turkeys and 90 percent of Turkey parts coming from the US, according to Olson. Currently, 70 to 80 percent of the consumers are Westerners.


Minnesota is expected to produce 46 million turkeys this year, earning more than $600 million for its related industries. About 10 percent of these fowl would be exported, with the Chinese mainland as the second largest destination and Hong Kong the fifth, according to the MTGA.


The MDA hopes to capitalize on the distribution network of Austin, Minnesota-based Hormel Foods Corp, which already has a foothold in China.


Fan Chao, sales manager of Beijing Hormel Food Co, a joint venture of Minnesota-based Hormel Foods Corp and Beijing Sanyuan Group Co Ltd, said he expects to sell about 800 turkeys this holiday season.


"We have more Chinese eating turkeys, because they have mostly accepted foreigners' customs of celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas," he said.


Beijing-based Schindler's Food Center owner Steffen Schindler said he would sell 250 to 300 turkeys this year, two-thirds of which would be domestically produced.


Markham explained: "There is some turkey production in China, but it's very scattered."


METRO China's vice-president Peter Schweighofer said the company expects to sell more than 30 tons of turkey this year during the holidays - all of which would be domestically produced.


"The price of local sourcing is more attractive than the imported articles, with better quality of packaging and labeling," he said. "METRO wants to really promote local suppliers and local products."


He added that last year, about 40 percent was sold during Thanksgiving, and the remaining was sold during Christmastime.


Beijing-based turkey farmer Guo Jianxin and his wife Zhang Hailan, who run Beijing Tianhu Houji Fan Yue Ltd Co, said they usually sell 1,500 to 2,000 turkeys during the holidays, mostly to foreigners.


"While very few Chinese people eat turkey now, the number is growing," Zhang said.


(China Daily November 22, 2007)


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