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Kono is selling growing quantities of green shell mussels into the China market, and is happy it established a permanent presence there. CEO Rachel Taulelei shares her impressions of the market after a week-long visit.

What opportunities and challenges do you see in China?
This is my first time in China, although we have an office here. My takeaways are largely around the magnitude of the market and the speed with which it operates. New Zealand companies and our company in particular need to be laser-like in presenting our products, in terms of who we present our products to. 
I think this market holds immense opportunity but you have to very specific about how you take your opportunities. You can forget our Western orthodox ways of doing business because China is a new market for us and it has new models of engagement with the consumer that are really interesting and fast-moving. I think it really pays to understand the rules of engagement before you jump into this market, and in doing so I think there is an enormous amount of information in the local networks, primarily the NZTE and PCNZ (Primary Collaboration NZ) networks. To have this at your fingertips is invaluable, and I think for our part, I will go back and really think about how we can mobilize these resources. 
Probably the greatest strength for Kono is having our own office here. We have been a participant in PCNZ and will remain a participant because I am an enormous fan of, and proponent of, the “New Zealand Inc” approach to any market – but particularly a market as big and as noisy as this one. 
But equally we have made the investment in our own trading wharf here and I think that will go a long way to instilling confidence in our customers, clients and partners in the market. It’s not a small investment to make, but we are building in line with what we want to become.

You mentioned new models of doing business in the China? 
The new models are largely around e-commerce. It’s partly to complement existing models, so you have your online and your offline, and I think one of the greatest things I took from this week was to focus on the consumer first and the channel second; to really understand who we are targeting in this market – the consumer – and then understand how that consumer will find our product, or how we can take our product to him or her. We pride ourselves on being a consumer-led organization but I think this requires even greater understanding of the consumer because it’s a new and foreign market.

You visited some consumers in their homes? How did that go? 
Going to some of these homes is one, a privilege, and two, a luxury to be able to get inside someone’s life. It’s very rare that you would do that. If we were launching a product in New Zealand, it’s unusual that we would go to the lengths of going to a person’s home. So visiting a Chinese consumer in their home gives you an insight into how their lives look and feel and sound and smell. It’s a very sensory experience as well as insightful. By inference you can see and understand your place in their lives. I would do that again and again and again. 

Have you come across any regulatory problems?
The rules are there, but in the scheme of things they are clear and we have the New Zealand resources to untangle any of the parts that aren’t. But I think that any market is a risk. I think that the pace with which China changes presents other intricacies in terms of what those rules might be, and there is a certainly a place for understanding how to protect yourself in this market. 
They are not our laws, they are Chinese laws. There is an arrogance sometimes in terms of thinking we can do things according to our laws, so we need to manage those risks.


Glenn Baker

Glenn is a professional writer/editor with 50-plus years’ experience across radio, television and magazine publishing.


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