Wisconsin looking to make cheeseheads in China

Updated: 2015-05-24 05:32

By AMY HE in New York(China Daily USA)

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Wisconsin Department of Agriculture's recent trade mission to China to promote its dairy and farm products generated "a lot of enthusiasm" from businesses and government officials in the Heilongjiang province, according to Jen Pino-Gallagher, bureau director for international agribusiness at the department.

The trade mission, which took place at the end of April, involved the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) and a delegation of more than 30 agricultural professionals from Wisconsin who visited Heilongjiang province.

"There was a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of interest, and a lot of awareness building when we over there," Pino-Gallagher told China Daily. "So many individuals we spoke with weren't familiar with where Wisconsin is. We're kind of tucked here in the mid-part of the country; we're kind of a flyover state. A lot of Chinese individuals know Florida, they know New York, they know LA, but aren't familiar with the central part of the country."

She said that Wisconsin wanted the opportunity for the state's companies to make contact with Chinese buyers and develop a better understanding of the Chinese market. Heilongjiang province is also Wisconsin's sister state of more than 30 years, and Wisconsin wanted to support that, she said.

"Wisconsin is known as a dairy state in the US and Heilongjiang is known as a dairy province in China," she said. "There are a lot of similarities, our dairy sectors are very vibrant and growing, and we wanted to re-establish the relationship on a governmental level, which is why our secretary (Ben Brancel) led the trade mission when we were over there."

China is Wisconsin's third largest destination for exported agricultural goods. Wisconsin agricultural exports to China totaled $278 million last year, according to the DATCP.

"This trade mission provides a unique opportunity for us that no other state has had," Brancel said in a statement. "We will not only introduce Wisconsin dairy products at the Dairy Expo, but we also will have a chance to share Wisconsin's best dairy practices in a special forum."

Wisconsin wanted to promote both the state's production and processing of dairy goods, Pino-Gallagher said. The state's main export of dairy to China is in the form of whey — the liquid that remains after milk is strained. Wisconsin imported close to $55 million worth of whey to China in 2014, which is primarily used by the Chinese in processed foods, infant formula, and animal feed, according to Pino-Gallagher.

"There's certainly a growing appetite for dairy products in China, both liquid milk as well as the finished dairy products, such as cheese and yogurts," she said. "Their processing capacity is not as robust as what you would find in more developed regions such as the European Union and the United States, Australia and New Zealand."

After whey, Wisconsin exported $2.3 million worth of milk, just behind California, which exported $2.8 million, according Pino-Gallagher.

Beyond liquid dairy goods, Wisconsin is also trying to promote processed goods like cheese. While cheese is not typically consumed by Chinese nationals, the DATCP is optimistic that the local market for it will grow, said Pino-Gallagher.

"Primarily you'll see a greater interest in cheese in the first-tier cities, so Shanghai, Beijing, where there's a large expat population as well as a larger population of Chinese nationals who have either studied abroad or traveled quite a bit abroad, who have international exposure to cuisines that may incorporate cheese into the diet," she said.

The desire and taste for cheese is growing, and at a dairy expo that the DATCP participated in while on the trade mission, 14 types of cheeses were shown at an event to introduce the styles and varieties to Chinese eaters. "We're trying to get the message out to more than just the first-tier cities," Pino-Gallagher said.

Wisconsin ginseng is popular in China, another item that the DATP promoted in Heilongjiang. The state is the No 1 exporter of the root, exporting $10 million worth of ginseng in 2014. The US as a whole exported $77.3 million.

"The Chinese might not know cheese, but they definitely know ginseng," Pino-Gallagher said.