China / Business

Developing a taste for Greek food, culture

By Li Wenfang in Guangzhou (China Daily Europe) Updated: 2016-06-19 14:22

Foshan Haichuan KTH Trading Co, one of the largest importers and distributors of Greek food and beverages in South China, has experienced a growing appetite for its goods since it started in 2010.

"Haichuan started as importers of Greek wine, then we became the center of Greek wine in South China and expanded into food and beverages," says general manager Themis Mavroeidis.

He showcased Greek olive oil at an event organized by the Greek consulate in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, in May to promote the country's tourism and agricultural products.

China, especially big cities, are seeing a surge in olive oil and wine consumption, says Grigorios Tassiopoulos, Greek consul-general in Guangzhou.

"The International Olive Council forecasts that China will be the largest consumption country in the world, with 30 million consumers, and Greece aspires to fill this growing demand with its famed olive oil products, of unparalleled quality," he says.

"Greek companies have established permanent liaisons with Guangdong distribution channels and delicatessen chains. We hope in the near future Greek products will have a greater representation in popular selling points in Guangdong."

Tassiopoulos says Greece-China economic and trade cooperation has developed rapidly over the past two years.

At the end of 2014, the number of Greek direct investment projects in China stood at 127 with an estimated worth of $94.5 million.

Greek exports to China reached 278.5 million euros ($313.7 million) in 2014, while bilateral trade grew by 6 percent that year and remained stable in 2015.

"We aim to recap and optimize our market share in China as Greek products enjoy high recognition from Chinese consumers. Guangdong is one of the four largest markets in China," Tassiopoulos says.

Founded in 2007 and selling Greek wine, olive oil and honey in China, the Guangzhou-based Greek Agricultural Products Asian Promotion Center has seen steady growth in its business, with sales at about 10 million yuan ($1.51 million, 1.34 million euros) last year, marketing manager Wang Yanli says.

The Chinese market has become increasingly competitive, with wine coming from both the old and new worlds, she says, adding that Chinese consumers have become more aware of the health benefits of olive oil, which means an expanding market.

In addition to working with distributors, the center plans to launch membership sales this year, Wang says.

Premier Li Keqiang's visit to Greece in June 2014, which saw the signing of intergovernmental agreements and commercial contracts, provided new impetus to promote bilateral economic and trade cooperation, Tassiopoulos says.

"Many Greek companies are interested in investing in China and business forums have been repeatedly organized," he says. "It's worth mentioning that recently China COSCO Shipping Corp won the international tender for the management of Piraeus, the largest port in Greece. This investment is expected to boost economic relations, and certainly can inspire and create more liaisons and investments from Guangdong."

The diplomat also points to shipping in economic cooperation. Almost 4,000 Greek-owned ships, which account for 18 percent of global tonnage, carry more than half of the traded goods between China and the rest of the world, he says.

Greek tankers carry more than 60 percent of China's energy resources every year. Chinese shipyards, some of them located in Guangzhou, have received more than 1,000 shipbuilding orders from Greek ship-owners since 2000.

Meanwhile, he adds, Greece stands as one of the 10 most popular destinations for Chinese tourists, with more than 100,000 visiting last year.

"We've seen clearly a very strong trend with a multiplying number of Chinese visitors over the past four years, an accumulative fivefold increase, that is expected to grow even stronger. We have developed specialized forms of tourism and enhanced efforts for more friendly services for Chinese-speaking visitors."

In September, Guandong University for Foreign Studies will launch a four-year undergraduate program on Greek language, history and culture.

"The consulate general already cooperates closely with the university to ensure the program's success," Tassiopoulos says. "At the university's request, we have helped to find two Greek professors and we're also collecting books and other educational material in Greek, to support its library."

The Greek program in Guangzhou is the third after Shanghai and Beijing, says Yang Ke, dean of the faculty of European languages and cultures at the university.

The University of Athens will offer a one-year study program for Greek-language students from the Guangdong university and will conduct other exchanges, Yang says.

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