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A Chilean Dairy Company Cracks The Chinese Market

SHANGHAI– It’s never been a problem for Chile to sell copper to China. The Chinese came knocking, hungry for the metal to wire new cities and factories as the Chinese economy hit full steam. Copper accounts for roughly 85 percent of Chile’s export sales to the Asian giant.

Knocking on China’s door is another story… and one Juan José Vidal knows well.

As the Asia business manager for Watt’s S.A., one of Chile’s leading food companies, it’s his job to bring an array of jams, juices, cheese and baby formula to the Middle Kingdom and beyond. The company’s products hit Chinese grocery stores three years ago.

It’s a mission that puts the company in a kind of pioneering role. Neither a towering multinational, nor a small entrepreneurial enterprise, Watt’s hopes to find just the right fit in China– capitalizing on a market that’s increasingly open to foreign foods and increasingly able to buy them. Chinese consumers also seem willing to pay a little extra for foreign labels given concerns over the safety and quality of domestic food. But their tastes and buying patterns can be difficult to unlock.

“China is a world unto itself,” said Vidal. “What works for example in Mexico or the United States, you might find here it doesn’t work. I think as foreigners and as westerners, we have a hard time understanding that in China things take time, and perseverance.”

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