The latest issue of TIME Magazine has an interesting story of a US-based company that has just set up shop in where else but Inner Mongolia, to feed the millions of hungry Chinese who are now looking to eat something other than pork:
Earlier this year, Western Cattle started to raise Holsteins on an American-style ranch and feedlot built in the wide open spaces of Inner Mongolia. Their goal: deliver truckloads of well-marbled beef to the waiting plates of urban China’s growing middle class. With a target herd of 75,000, U.S.-based Western Cattle has the potential to be the leading company in the third-largest beef-producing nation in the world. And if the company’s Western take on raising cattle catches on in the East, it could kick start the consolidation of China’s disorganized beef-production chain, bringing to Inner Mongolia all the high-volume efficiency — and social and environmental concerns — that go with big agriculture.
A few years back, China wasn’t much of an attraction for cattlemen. The Chinese traditionally serve beef sparingly, usually in stir-fried dishes, stews and hot pots for which tough, lean meat suffices. But the rise of McDonald’s in China in the 1990s is credited with popularizing the all-beef patty, and today upscale restaurants and hotels in major cities commonly put steak on the menu. Consumption has risen 31% in the past five years alone, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “The beef market is exploding,” says Western Cattle president Jim Mueller. He’s not exaggerating. Owing to soaring demand, China could face beef shortages as early as next year, says the Asian Agribusiness Research Center, a situation exacerbated by a dramatic decline in pork production brought on by an outbreak of blue-ear disease earlier this year.
Well if great beef can be had in China, why not great wine? We’ve long heard of French vineyards coming to set up shop here, and China’s dreams of joining join the ranks of France, Italy, the USA, Chile, Australia and other great winemaking nations. Our friend Franck Crouvezier who manages Kathleen’s 5 raised eyebrows when they hosted a Chinese wine-tasting night. Now apparently people are even starting to travel to China for wine tours! (h/t to James Fallows)
California-based China Wine Tours is now offering trips to Chinese vineyards such as the Grace Vineyard in Shanxi. Apparently they have an upcoming 12-day tour from March 24 – April 4, 2008 (check itinerary and price tag here)! James Fallows adds :
A China Wine Tours representative notes that it is wrong to generalize about wine from China or anyplace else. Fair enough. And while I feel safe in saying that Sichuan food is generally better in Chengdu (Sichuan province) than in, say, Nebraska — much as wine is generally worse in China than in, say, most of Europe, North America, or Oceania — I take the point that there are exceptions to any rule. More power to all involved, from Grace, to China Wine Tours, to the other people and companies in China trying to develop and satisfy a market for a much better product. And I will have to save up and try the top-level Grace wine.
TIME: Selling Steak to China
USAToday: China stakes claim in wine’s past, future
James Fallows: You really do learn something new every single day
Photo from the Western Cattle China website.