China in their hands... the local firms who found markets in the East
Northern Ireland businesses chalked up £115m worth of exports to|China last year. David Elliott reports on five of those success stories
1. Robin Stewart, owner of Robinson’s Shoemakers, Carrickfergus Perhaps one of the more surprising aspects of the phenomenal growth the prosperity of Chinese consumers in the seemingly insatiable appetite for luxury goods.
That’s a demand stream which Robin Stewart has been more than happy to fulfil.
His company sells high-end branded shoes, alongside its own Carrickfergus-made ‘Handmade Irish Brogues’ to customers around the world and has just started making inroads in China.
The internet has proved a vital lifeline to Robinson’s Shoemakers over the last few years and it’s providing the route in to China.
However, restrictions on currency movement out of China and on internet search engines mean the marketing through this channel isn’t as easy in the Asian region as it is elsewhere.
To combat these difficulties and the problems faced with the language barrier the firm is selling its shoes through a luxury shopping portal owned by an English firm, Ashton Lord.
“It seems a good way to get in there,” he said. “There’s so much money out there and by doing this we’re bringing attention to my goods and we’re becoming known over there.”
And it seems Chinese consumers have slightly less conservative tastes to local shoe buyers.
“They’re a lot more flamboyant,” he said.
2. DAVID DOBBIN, CEO of United Dairy Farmers, which owns Dale Farm
Dairy company Dale Farm has been exporting into China for over 12 years. The business exports around £5m worth of product into China each year and is witnessing further growth in this market.
Dale Farm exports hundreds of tonnes of specialised whey protein powders each month into China (as well as markets such as the Middle East and the EU), which are created as a by-product of its cheese manufacturing process in Cookstown.
The products are high in protein and are used by Chinese processors as an ingredient in making their own dairy products and as an ingredient in other food products.
Traditionally, the Chinese diet does not include dairy products and they don't eat much dairy fat, but whey proteins are becoming increasingly popular as a dairy ingredient in their locally-made food products.
Dale Farm invested heavily into its whey ultra-filtration processing over the past two years in order to increase production of whey protein and build on its export business.
“The consistent high quality of our local dairy products means that buyers in China want our products as they can rely on our nutritional quality and therefore we continue to win more new business,” Mr Dobbin said.
“I would thoroughly recommend any company considering export opportunities in overseas markets such as China get in touch with Invest NI.”
3.Robert Overend Owner of Deerpark Pedigree Pigs, Magherafelt
Anyone who has visited a Chinese restaurant will notice that pork features heavily on the menu.
It’s this taste for pig meat which has seen one of Northern Ireland’s top breeders Robert Overend send pigs to China over the last few years, not, thankfully for them to face the immediate chop, but to breed and strengthen the stock of Chinese farmers.
It says a lot about the quality of Mr Overend’s pigs, predominately Landrace and Large White, that they’ve attracted buyers from a country which itself is the world’s biggest producer of pig meat by volume.
“China is the top producing country for pork and the top country when it comes to eating pork,” he said. “But they prize our breeds more than any others.”
A sharp increase in the cost of transportation, veterinary and quarantine requirements demanded by the Chinese government has meant that exports of live pigs have halted in recent times but Mr Overend has found a way around the problem.
Instead of actual pigs, he’s looking in to exporting his boars’ “genetics” to China to be artificially inseminated into female pigs.
4. Martin Lamb, VP Business Development at Almac Clinical Services in Craigavon
Two arms of the pharmaceutical company export goods to China.
Almac Clinical Services produces drug kits for use in clinical trials on behalf of major western pharmaceutical companies and says China is a rapidly growing market for clinical trials due to its burgeoning population.
In addition, the company said China's increasing wealth is making it a key target market for new drugs.
But before it can enter the market, it needs to show drugs are effective in the Chinese population.
“As a result, more clients are asking us to prepare drug kits for export to clinical trial sites in China,” Martin Lamb said.
Meanwhile, Almac Clinical Technologies provides technology solutions for clinical trial management.
“While we have supported Chinese clinical trials operated by, and contracted through, western companies for several years, we were recently awarded our first contracts directly from China,” he said.
“In addition, as China continues to evolve from a production to an innovation-based economy there are an increasing number of Chinese companies discovering and developing their own products.”
The region is becoming more and more important to Almac’s business.
“Shipments from Almac to clinical trial sites in China increased by 125% between 2010 and 2011. China's share of our Asian shipments rose from 4% to almost 10% over this period.
5. Kevin Campbell, Sales director at APT, Belfast
“APT have been trading in China for the past 10 years. We are involved in the supply of audio codec equipment to radio stations throughout the region,” he said.
“Notable successes have been the installation of the company’s flagship E1 audio multiplexer for the RTHK, the public broadcaster in Hong Kong. APT where also selected as a primary audio codec vendor by the CNC to distribute audio commentary during the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
“This network was rolled out globally with end points located as far away as Argentina and Cuba.
“There are many challenges to doing business in the region, the language, the culture, the vast size of the country.
“One element we have found invaluable as a company in succeeding in China is a loyal and reliable partner.
“A partner who also has the right connections at all levels of decision-making from the technical evaluation level to budgetary allocation and order.
“Another unique challenge, at least to the western pallet, is culinary.
“The Chinese take immense pride in their food and banqueting and the sharing of food is an essential part of the business process, be prepared for far-flung delicacies from bamboo worms to duck beaks!”