28 July 1995

Chinese beer trade good for UK barley

By Philip Clarke

CHINA offers UK barley growers a tremendous sales opportunity as the economy develops and beer consumption accelerates.

But tapping this market, with its 1.2bn people, will not be easy.

Addressing a seminar in London, Wang Yancai, deputy director of the Chinese Brewing Association, said beer production had climbed from just 680m litres a year in 1980 to over 14bn litres this year as the government relaxed controls on the market.

But with consumption still only at 12 litres a person a year (compared with 104 litres in the UK) the growth potential is enormous.

China has a long history of barley production, he said. But only a small proportion was suitable for malting and the country had to import about half its needs.

In 1994/95 this amounted to 1.2m tonnes, with Australia sending 700,000t and the EU 200,000t.

But though China is committed to increasing its own malting barley crop, this is unlikely to keep pace with the 5% to 8% forecast annual growth in the brewing industry. Imports are, therefore, expected to increase.

One recent shipment included an estimated 60,000t of UK grain as part of a larger EU sale.

Traders at the seminar (organised by British Cereal Exports and the Maltsters Association of Great Britain) were concerned that, though the barley had been traded to a low protein specification, to remain competitive it included varieties that would not normally be used for malting in the UK.

Others were worried that British barley required different malting techniques to the Australian varieties the Chinese were used to. That could give them the wrong impression about UK grain and discourage them from future purchases.

"This is why direct contact between the British and Chinese industries is so important," said British Cereal Exports Alan Almond. "If we are to get a foothold in that market we must understand each others needs."

And though he acknowledged that sending malting barley abroad might not be universally popular with the domestic malting industry, if a long-term trade could be developed with China it could lead to a more widespread uptake of malting types by UK growers. &#42

Chinese brewery director Li Dahong takes a close interest in UK malting barley during the recent British Malting Week.