Most people don’t associate Shanghai with Maine blueberries and fresh New England lobster, but Edible Group’s Jacob DeLois’ vows to make that all change. The New England native has been craving his hometown goods since he moved to Shanghai, and has been looking for ways to bring them here ever since. Here is what he told us about his exciting new marketing and supply ventures.
Can you tell me a bit about your different business ventures in the food scene here in Shanghai?
The Edible Group operates three businesses here in mainland China and Hong Kong. Our first is Edible Marketing. We provide communications solutions to F&B Industry players. We like to think of ourselves as the in-house marketing team for restaurants, bars, food purveyors and distributors. Whether people are opening a new place, want to refresh a stale brand or just need better, more responsible public relations, we’re there.
We’ve also started a project called Edible Trading, where we bring in food and beverage products from New England into the Hong Kong marketplace. Our end goal is of course Mainland China, but we’re happy with the small steps we’ve made so far. Think Maine lobsters, craft beer and wild Maine blueberries.
Our last project is a collaboration between us and a good friend of mine, called Linked. We were tired of all the high quotes we were getting for website design and development, so we decided to launch an extremely affordable – yet still creative – web studio. We’re firm believers that a premium website doesn’t need to come at a premium price.
What are some of the greatest challenges in terms of getting involved here? Is this something anyone could do – decide to begin an importing business here or are there a lot of hoops you have to jump through in order to do something in the food industry over here like you are doing?
One challenge we’ve been facing with importing lobster into China is frankly the cost. Not only are lobsters a bit pricey anyway, but tack on very complicated logistics and a large tax by the government, and they’re not really that accessible anymore. A customs officer jokingly (we think!) suggested that we ship the lobsters from Maine, and right before they come to port, dump them back into the water and re-catch them as “Chinese lobsters”. That’s one way to get around that import tax, but it wouldn’t really fit into how we plan on branding the crustaceans.
Lobsters and beers from Maine? Sounds pretty cool but definitely a niche market. Have you noticed a demand for all things New England while you are over here in Shanghai?
As a native New Englander, I don’t find many reasons why everyone shouldn’t be eating lobster rolls, craft beer and wild Maine blueberries on a daily basis, besides of course the aforementioned cost burden.
But really, in 2009, the first campaign featuring basketball player Yao Ming condemning shark finning launched. Soon after, Jackie Chan followed suit, coming out against the practices and consumption of shark fin soup. There are a lot of implications with that – shark fin soup has literally been served since the Ming Dynasty as the de facto impressive dish and as such, has incredibly cultural significance. So, we saw the opening for China’s need to have a new alternative, yet equally exceptional dish to serve to impress guests. Those New Englander roots kicked in and I naturally thought of lobster. And the best lobster in the world? Maine lobster.
You are also involved in the marketing for several expats making forays into the food business. What trends have you noticed within that community? How do you think they became such a tight knit group?
Well the obvious exciting trend is the rise of those “cottage industry” players. I think the motivation behind those businesses is great – most are started because the founder is pining for a very specific food craving that just can’t be satiated. Since that market is still developing, they are all really supportive of each other, which is another really nice sentiment I see among restaurants here in Shanghai. As opposed to the cutthroat mentality in other foodie cities…
You are working on several different projects at the moment. Any exciting developments from your own business ventures or from the people you work with that you would like the Shanghai community to know about?
Well, from the people we work with – there’s always exciting things going on in their kitchens. First that comes to mind? The new partnership between our good friends over at Spread the Bagel and Tock’s. On weekends, they’ll be delivering bagels to the Montreal deli – we can’t think of a much better breakfast (or lunch) than a bagel topped with mouthwatering house smoked meat. That starts this Saturday.
By Charlotte Evans
Charlotte Evans is a food contributor for Shanghaiist’s Food Desk. Email tips, recommendations, and news updates on Shanghai’s dining scene to [email protected].