Lisa Lupo

Regardless of your stance on the (at this time) pending “trade war” between the U.S. and China, there is no question that China’s economic importance has evolved and, in all likelihood, will continue its development as a significant power in global trade. To cite a few sources who have a great deal more expertise in this area than I do:

Although significant inequality is created by the strong urban/rural divide in China, overall wealth inequality was low at the turn of the century....Inequality has been rising quickly, however, since 2000. China now has two million millionaires, and more residents with wealth above $50 million than any country except the United States. (Credit Suisse Global Health Report, 2017)

The bilateral economic relationship between the U.S. and China has developed over the past 35 years from virtually nonexistent to the most important in the world. Today, the U.S. and China are each other’s second largest trading partners....while there are frequent tensions, this economic relationship is of tremendous mutual benefit. (China-U.S. Exchange Foundation, 2016)

It is for these very reasons that QA Media made the investment to send me to China in March for the exclusive, behind-the-scenes stories of two very disparate, but global food producers — which I was to discover paralleled the contrasting nature of the country itself. In my 500+ mile travels across the country, I journeyed from Shanghai where I toured McCormick’s state-of-the-art food plant (page 20) to Xi’an and into the Daba Mountains to witness the hand-picked and -processed Qinba teas (QA, July/August 2018). I beheld the hundreds of 30-story, high-rise apartments and technologically advanced business climate of the cities to a sampling of the 200 million small (1.5 acre average) family farms of rural China.

In addition to my business ventures, I partook of Chinese meals, city park and water town walks, grocery shopping, and modern and ancient tourist sights. Being in China for 10 days, where I had no command of the language beyond Hello/Greetings (ni hao) and Thank You (xiexie), I was completely reliant on my hosts. And it was through their incredible hospitality and willingness to involve me in their daily lives that I learned a valuable business lesson I have shared frequently since: While it is important to understand the economics, standards and regulations of a country to successfully do business there, it is just as, if not more, important to understand the culture of its people.

Do the people of that country into which you want to sell really fit the stereotypes by which they are so often categorized? What aspects of your product, philosophy, or processes will its consumers most readily buy into or reject? What do food safety and quality mean in that country?

Recent studies have suggested that while the people of a country do have a unique average personality, it rarely matches the stereotype held of that nation. And is it only the “average” personality you wish to attract?

With its other-side-of-the-world distance, travel costs, and visa and government approval requirements, China is not an easy country to visit. But any chance you have to travel to a foreign country — or even the other side of your own country — is well worth the cost, if only to discover as I have of China, Alaska, Novia Scotia, and a multitude of other areas, that the place and its people are often everything you expect them to be — and nothing at all like our preconceived notions tells us they are.

The author is Editor of QA magazine. She can be reached at llupo@gie.net.