Co-founder of Fruitday, China’s leading fruit e-tailer, Loren Zhao talks about the company’s recently created packing and marketing arm, its new proprietary orange brand ‘Mr Orange’, and the future of fruit branding in China.
As Chinese consumers grow more quality-conscious and brand-aware, local fruit producers are embracing the art of branding to compete with upmarket imported products. Zhu Oranges have been a huge success in recent years as well as the likes of ‘Liu Kiwifruit’ and ‘Pan Apples’, all locally-produced fruit companies that are associated with big names in the business world. Now we have Mr Orange, Fruitday’s first ever proprietary fruit brand. How was this project born?
Loren Zhao: Our main business is on imported fruit, but we would love to tap into quality products from our own country. This project initially started last year. We went to many growing regions to see different products, and we settled on the bingtang oranges grown in Yunnan. This product is very special. It is different from our imported varieties, and it doesn’t collide with the California season, or that of Europe and Southern Hemisphere countries. So it works for us.
Of course we considered all the other aspects too: local climate, government support, whether the product quality is sustainable, and how marketable it is.
It seems oranges are a popular choice for Chinese marketers. Other than Zhu oranges, beverage company Nongfu Spring also got into the fresh fruit business and launched its ‘17.5° Oranges’ that boast a ‘golden’ sugar-acid ratio.
LZ: It might be a seasonal coincidence that a wave of orange products is coming out now. At the same time, oranges are a tolerant fruit. They have less reliance on cold chain, and they have longer storage time and shelf-life. This is why so many people are doing oranges. You can treat them gently or you can be rough, even without proper cold chain, it might not be too big a problem.
But it looks like Fruitday has a gentle and highly technical approach to handling its fruit.
LZ: Fruitday invested $20m RMB ($3m USD) in the joint venture and packing plant in Yunnan. We have a complete cold chain throughout the packing and logistics process.
We have visited many packing facilities ever since we started our fruit import business. We have been to Sunkist and packhouses in Australia, New Zealand, Spain and Egypt, most of the citrus growing countries. It made us realise how crucial a part packing plays in modern agriculture.
A few years ago we got to know some high-brix products sorted by Compac’s system, including a few high-brix Australian oranges we have been selling. So in the initial stage of this project, we already had Compac’s technology on our mind. We wanted to focus on the standardisation of agricultural produce, and to match up to the international industry at least on the technical side. This is why we brought in Compac’s InVision 9000 fruit sorting system from New Zealand.
It is an interesting approach for Fruitday to label the orange products by their sweetness level, made possible by Compac.
LZ: In order to establish our brand, we thought about how to convey the idea and value of standardised fruit products to the consumers. We want them to know about brix degree and its value. I think from a technical point of view that, sugar-acid ratio is very difficult to detect, so it would be more of a marketing gimmick to pursue. However sweetness level can be accurately detected and we can be confident and stay genuine to our customers, to make sure they get the correct information. Bingtang oranges are quite sweet, so to start, we are promoting 11o and 14o brix oranges. Later we plan to have 12o and 13o products and launch them to the market in cooperation with our partners.
Do you think China’s fruit industry is finally getting into the age of branding now?
LZ: Interestingly, I think China’s agricultural products have been in the branding age for a while now. However what has been lacking is standardisation. Chinese agricultural products can vary hugely in quality in different batches of supply. It is quite the opposite from the industry development overseas.
What we want to do with Mr Orange is to make sure that no matter when and where a customer buys our oranges, the taste and quality are always the same. Mr Orange is a brand, but the value of the brand is in its standardisation. Our fruit is handled in complete cold chain throughout the packing and logistics process to ensure a great commercial product.
Will Fruitday expand its packing and marketing business in the future, after Mr Orange?
LZ: Fruitday’s business focus is on e-tailing. Outside of that, we do have our eyes on the whole supply chain. We won’t say no to opportunities in the upstream. However we have set a precondition for ourselves: we will not compete with our long-term partners. We will avoid some categories that we are already dealing in.
There are Chinese agricultural products with good characteristics and potential, but they lack standardisation and marketing. We want to explore that opportunity. Outside of oranges, there are possibilities, and we are open to them. However, to the whole industry and the consumers, our role and commitment will always be in e-commerce and retailing. Our involvement in the upstream will be through partnerships and joint ventures.
Source: Asiafruit fruitnet.com/asiafruit.