Online U.S. Pork Promotion Goes Live on TMall.com

A new online commercial pork site opened this week and operated by China's business-to-consumer market leader, TMall.com, is promising nationwide delivery of eight U.S. pork items within 24 to 48 hours at discounts ranging up to 60 percent during a site-opening seven-day sale.

The new e-commerce platform attracted more than 400,000 viewers within the first few hours of operation, and a USMEF-organized promotion to win a sample of American pork drew more than 2,000 applications in the first hour. Support for the promotion is being provided through the Pork Checkoff.

The U.S. pork items, ranging from pre-cut bone-in pork butt steak to pork belly, are being offered to Chinese consumers nationwide. The products are sourced from three U.S. processors and are being sold through three specialized distributors who can deliver the frozen ready-to-cook items nationwide in under 48 hours.

The site provides a range of information on U.S. pork and the available products. A link allows shoppers to view a video on U.S. pork production, while other specific information about the brands and the distributors selling the products provide assurances and a "ten-fold money back guarantee" regarding the U.S. source of the products.

Three guest chefs, including Hong Kong celebrity gourmet Chef Hugo (Liang Wen Tao) and the chef to the U.S. ambassador to China, provided recipes, photos and instructional videos for the promotion.

"Online commerce is growing in China at a phenomenal rate," said Joel Haggard, USMEF senior vice president for the Asia-Pacific region. "Food is still a small portion of total online sales, but consumers are becoming more accepting of receiving courier packages of food, including frozen perishables like meat."

U.S. pork has been available online in China prior to this activity, but the dedicated sales platform represents a new breakthrough in online visibility, Haggard said. Online shoppers are looking for the latest brands, and are interested in the story behind the products, so the partnership with TMall will also help USMEF educate Chinese consumers about the attributes of U.S. pork.

USMEF has been investing in building up U.S. pork's online sales potential for nearly a year. Early efforts focused on assisting online vendors with ideas and expertise on how to improve packaging so that the geographical footprint of product shipments could expand. In the meantime, investments in logistics in China have ramped up, including a project by TMall's parent company, Ali Baba, to build its own logistical capabilities.

"We are very attracted to the online model," Haggard said. "We see sales results instantaneously and, for this particular promotion, we stand to receive more than 1,000 detailed customer comments on U.S. pork."

Revenue from e-commerce in China last year reached an estimated $290 billion, an increase of 38 percent over 2012. TMall is the largest business-to-consumer e-commerce platform in China, with 57 percent market share. It set a record last year for Singles Day (Nov. 11) when it sold $5.7 billion of goods and services in a 24-hour period. Logistics companies throughout China that day sorted more than 60 million packages. TMall was also featured at the USDA's Agricultural Outlook Forum last month, where participants heard an eye-opening presentation on the company and the current and potential sales of U.S. food products through their USA Country Pavilion.

The TMall promotion's various components were coordinated by USMEF Shanghai's team over the last few weeks.

"This involved an incredible coordinating effort among our staff between TMall staff, U.S. processors, their distributors and the guest chefs featured on the site," said Haggard.

The China/Hong Kong region was the third-largest export market for U.S. pork in 2013, purchasing 417,306 metric tons (920 million pounds) valued at $903.4 million, an increase of 2 percent in value on 3 percent lower volumes versus 2012 levels.

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