The 2013-2014 beijingkids Health Guide is the latest resource for Beijing families dedicated to providing information on family health care, maternity, eating and breathing safety, mental health, emergency care and traditional Chinese Medicine. Articles from the guide will be featured twice a week on our website. Find the full version here.
Simon Gauthier says Beijingers are more than willing to chow down on organic food—he’s just not so sure that the scope of such healthier produce has ripened enough for a bigger clientele.
“I feel like this is the moment where not only foreigners, but also Chinese people, are fed up with all the food scandals in this country, with trying to find sources they can trust,” Gauthier, the founder of A Food Affaire Deli and Catering (located in the April Gourmet grocery) says. ”I’ve seen strawberries the size of your fist here, and they don’t rot, they just liquefy. That’s just one of the many things about some foods that can be strange and disturbing here.”
Gauthier has looked into catering organic food, but despite the growing interest, he says the supply is not yet sustainable.
“I discussed it with a few organic food outlets, like LohaoCity. They do a great job, but they are just too small scale. We go through a lot of food, thousands of kilos a month. I’d love to get into the organic food business, but I need a consistent source.”
Klaus Griesbach, who works at the TooToo Organic Farm and delivery company, concurs that while interest has spiked as of late, Beijing hasn’t yet reached its organic food tipping point.
“Organic food is not mainstream yet in China, less than 0.1 percent of all food consumed in China is organic,” he says, before adding: “I doubt that most grocers or caterers could sell thousands of kilograms of organic food monthly, at least not yet.”
Nancy Song, who works at the LohaoCity health store and organic food provider that Gauthier gave kudos to, agrees that she would like to see organic food become more popular. But she adds that its current status as a niche product does have advantages, especially over mainstream alternatives like supermarkets.
“We don’t see ourselves as a supermarket. Supermarkets specialize in ‘convenient products,’ which end up being unhealthy. Outside of China, people are most worried about whether their food is healthy. In China, most consumers are worried about food safety, which is a trickier problem to solve. We wish not only to have a reputation for selling healthy food, but also to be known for selling safe food products. We want to occupy the same position in China as, for example, Trader Joe’s does in America”
Griesbach says that organic food’s popularity will likely continue its steady rise, because it is so much more nutritious than the alternatives.
“Whether you live in Beijing or any other place, if your health is important to you, you should eat organic food,” he says, before rattling off a list of unnatural additives and chemicals in most other foods that he, and other organic proponents, have deemed to be harmful. “Organic foods are free of health endangering preservatives, coloring, pesticides, herbicides, and hormones. I think young parents, who want to make sure that their children get the best and safest food available, should especially keep this in mind.”
While the number of Beijing’s organic food fans may be steadily growing, Griesbach says there are several reasons why they are still a minority. “One of the challenges Beijing poses for organic food growers and vendors is the long distance between the farms and the vendors, which require packing at night and cooled transport. But this is true for any big city.”
Gauthier agrees, saying that those expenditures will lead to hurdles that may prove to be too daunting for distributors, vendors and customers.
“Once you decide to go full on organic, it costs more,” he says, before admitting that the vast majority of organic proponents have no issue with paying more for their beloved grub. But while that price difference may be widely accepted by some consumers, most vendors don’t think it’s so easy to swallow. “Changing your business model to go completely organic doesn’t mean that all clients are going to be willing to pay something like double the price. It’s a bit of a risk for now, at least until organic food becomes more common.”
Griesbach agrees that the price difference is considerable, before elaborating on why that gap happens.
“The higher price of organic food is mainly due to the much higher cost of distributing small amounts of goods,” he says. “Our farm sell its products directly to families or single persons, not to shops. The more organic food is consumed, the more its price will go down.”
Gauthier is looking forward to that day when organic food becomes the norm. But in the meantime, he says too many outlets of these niche products make too many compromises — not with the food itself, but in the strategies they use to sell it.
“Some organic outlets that I’ve been to have plenty of non-organic products. It’ll be all interspersed between the two types, or there will be an organic section and then another section with cornflakes,” he says. “To me, it makes more sense go all the way if you’re going to go organic.”
Taking such steps, and taking on the resulting swollen prices, can be intimidating for business owners. But while many customers may be skeptical about the costliness of organic products, Song says many of the outlets that provide this more holistic food take pains to ensure they’re worth every penny.
“We take more responsibility in order to make more guarantees about our products. We spend more time and effort on the safety and health of our products, that’s reflected in our price. When you buy any of our products, you are buying our guarantee. If you have any problem with any Lohao products you buy, we will take responsibility for it. We won’t pass the buck onto anyone else.”
Song says that Gauthier’s earlier point, about some outlets having a seeming half hearted commitment to organic products, is by no means the worst example of the hurdles plaguing this budding food variety.
“It can be a challenge to build trust between us and our customers,” she says. “There are several organic labeling systems in China, some of which are abused to the point that they hardly mean anything anymore to the consumer.”
Song deems such deceptive advertising to be deplorable, leaving consumers wary of which foods may or may not be organic. And she says the best way to combat that soured image is to provide the public with a fresh alternative— a chance to see the real deal, the leafy greens and juicy fruits, up and close and in person.
“In order to resolve this challenge, we create a lot of opportunities for people to visit our farm and to observe our growing processes firsthand,” she says. “They can therefore understand how we go about this business, and when that happens, customers end up trusting all the products we carry.”
That could be a promising proposal to people like Gauthier, who are enticed by all the promise that organic food holds, why still being wary by the potential pitfalls ahead. He says one of the issues could stem from the complacency that has settled in among a portion of Beijing’s expat consumers.
“I feel like living in China, for the longest time, made many people just settle, or even be timid, when it comes to looking for what they want from their food,” he says, before elaborating: “Some expats, who aren’t bilingual, got really used to going to stores where no one can speak English. Asking for an apple could be a challenge, let alone looking into complex terms and details like nutritional values and whether or not something is organic.”
He adds that many expats are extremely firm when it comes to the standards of what they eat, and that that group is growing in number and self assurance in Beijing. But he says that the true key to organic food’s success lies at a much more local angle.
“My business started out having 90 percent foreign customers. Now I’m 60/40 between expats and Chinese clients as my business has grown bigger,” he says, before adding that organic food’s Beijing breakthrough needs to happen in the same fashion. “If stores are going to sell more organic foods, then it needs to not come from the 100,000 foreigners in Beijing, but the 20 million Chinese living here. They’re becoming more aware of what goes into their food, especially when it’s processed, and they’re going to be expecting higher and higher standards as time goes on.”
LohaoCity Organic Food Store
10A, Bldg 5, 76 Naner Lu, Baiziwan (8459-4332) 百子湾南二路76号院5号楼10A www.lohaocity.com
Tootoo Organic Farm Home Delivery Service
22/F, Building #A, Ninetowns Group, No. 20, Gongti East Road, Chaoyang Dist. (135-5214-2991, 8610- 6589 9833 ) 北京市朝阳区工体东路20号A座九城集团大厦22层 100020 email@example.com
A Food Affaire Deli and Catering
1/F, 5 Xingfuyicunxili (on the ground floor of Lianbao Apartments next to Yu Xin restaurant), Chaoyang District (135 0107 1114) 朝阳区绿叶子食品店, 幸福一村西里5号一层
OASIS International Hospital
9 Jiuxianqiao Beilu, Chaoyang District, Chaoyang District (400 UR OASIS (876 2747)) 朝阳区朝阳区酒仙桥北路9号 www.oasishealth.cn
FOR MORE ORGANIC OPTIONS, CHECK OUT…
Beijing Organic and Beyond Corporation
Rm. 1103,Tower B, Tian Yuan Gang Center, C2 East 3rd Ring North Rd, Chaoyang District, 100027 (400 630 1001, 6460 8999) 办公地址:北京市朝阳区东三环北路丙2号天元港中心B座1103、1001室info oabc.cc service oabc.cc www.oabc.cc
Beijing Organic Farmers Market
For more information, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Crab Island (resort with organic restaurants)
1 Xiedao Lu (take the Weigou exit off the Airport Expressway and follow the signs), Chaoyang District (8433 5566/5588) 朝阳区蟹岛路1号Tel: 010-84335566/5588 www.xiedao.com
Derunwu Organic Farm
Strawberry Fields, Xinzhuang, Xingshou Town, Changping District
(8459 0809) 昌平区兴寿镇辛庄草莓园 email@example.com
Green Cow Organic Farm
Shunyi North 顺义北 Donggezhuang (10 min north of the International Exhibition Center), Houshayu Zhen, Shunyi District
(8046 4301, 135 0113 6920),
For directions in Chinese and English, visit: http://www.greencowfarm.com/find-us.html
Beijing Organic Consumers Association
Sign up for this organization’s email newsletter, for more up to date info about our city’s organic food happenings:
This article originally appeared on page 50-53 of the beijingkids Health Guide.
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