Businessman returns to China to seek raspberry fortune

 

 

 

Photo taken on January 8, 2015  shows Huang Yuanchao checking overwintering raspberry plants

at his raspberry farm in Tianmen City, central China’s Hubei Province.   Photo by Cheng Min


 

 

TIANMEN, Hubei  |  2015-01-12 15:24:24

 

Businessman

returns to China

to seek raspberry fortune

 

 

By Jiang Xufeng and Li Jianping

 

 

After years in Canada, nobody expected businessman Huang Yuanchao (黄远超) to return to Tianmen City in central China’s Hubei Province to start a raspberry empire.

Born into a rural family in Tianmen, Huang worked as an automation engineer upon graduation at a Beijing research institute starting in 1986. Bored with the routine job, he started his own trading company in 1993 selling merchandise, including imported cars, and made a fortune over the course of a decade.

Huang moved to Toronto, Canada in 2002 with his wife to enjoy an easier pace of life and support her career as an acupuncture therapist. He grew raspberry plants for fun in their house’s backyard, along with blueberries and other plants, but never imagined he would become a raspberry farm owner in China.

 

 

FROM TORONTO TO TIANMEN

 

Inspired by a friend who is a raspberry farm owner in Beijing’s suburbs, Huang set up Hubei Gold Berry S&T Development Co., Ltd. (湖北金莓科技发展有限公司) and started his berry farm in 2007. Hometowns are always hard to leave, and the millionaire businessman wanted to be closer to his aging parents and contribute to the development of his hometown.

Unlike his friend, who exports raspberries to Spain, the Republic of Korea and other countries, Huang has taken advantage of the growing Chinese middle class’s appetite for the fruit. Per capita disposable income in China climbed 10.9 percent from a year earlier to 18,311 yuan (2,950 U.S. dollars) in 2013, outstripping the nation’s economic growth rate of 7.7 percent in the same year.

“Raspberries are good for health. It was in Toronto that I first tasted raspberries and thought other Chinese would love them, too. I moved my backyard raspberry garden in Toronto to China and expanded it into a 2,000 mu (130 hectares) farm. Starting an undertaking is not easy, but I find myself doing something useful for the community,” the 49-year-old entrepreneur said in an interview.

A spate of food safety scandals in China has added to people’s enthusiasm for organic vegetables and fruits. Organic raspberries from Huang’s farm have found their way into three upscale supermarkets in Wuhan, capital city of Hubei, where they sell for about 350 yuan per pound. Huang intends to sell them across China, with branches of his company already set up in metropolises such as Beijing and Shanghai.

 

 

RASPBERRY VILLAGE HEAD

 

Investment in agriculture requires patience, and it took about two years for Huang’s team to select seven U.S. and European raspberry varieties suitable to grow in Tianmen from a list of 50. He has experienced ups and downs, with a flood hitting 200 mu of his raspberry farm in 2009, costing him millions of yuan.

With the goal of running China’s largest raspberry farm and processor and a tolerance for risk, Huang has plowed all his cash into the project and borrowed tens of millions from friends and banks, using his apartments in China as collateral.

Huang’s wife thought the stakes of the investment were too high, but Huang is upbeat about the market potential and aims to expand his raspberry farm to 20,000 mu in coming years. Like many startups in China, financing has been the largest bottleneck.

Gold Berry pays villagers about 850 yuan per mu for use of their land in five nearby villages, and employs hundreds of farmers as temporary workers with a daily wage of 50 yuan. Many Chinese villages have adopted agricultural reform that allows families to transfer part of their farmland to companies in return for a fee, which has reinvigorated farmers’ livelihood. But it is difficult for investors like Huang to use the transferred land as collateral for loans, hindering large-scale and professional farming.

Huang is making tremendous efforts to secure a round of investment from venture capital organizations to support R&D and production of a range of related products, such as raspberry juice and raspberry leaf tea. Many Chinese fruit orchard owners have not tapped into the high added-value food processing industry, and Gold Berry is the first Chinese company to produce raspberry leaf tea, according to Dai Hanping, a professor at Shenyang Agricultural University.

Huang has spent more than 4 million yuan on his raspberry leaf tea production line, which can produce both green and black tea. He is pressing ahead with plans to produce an array of other raspberry-related products to generate stronger sales and higher profits.

Chinese consumers need education to warm up to raspberries, which are not on many Chinese people’s shopping lists. Imported cherries are more popular among Chinese, and Huang is working to spread “raspberry fever” throughout China. But Huang is optimistic about the market, as young consumers in the world’s most populous nation are eager to try exotic and healthy foods.

“If I can increase my raspberry farm tenfold, I can create a ‘raspberry village’ and become its head. I know what life was for an individual farmer in my childhood, and China has to embark on large-scale farming to increase productivity. I can help thousands of farmers become professional workers at farms near their homes. They don’t need to be like me and work hard far from home to gain financial independence,” he said.

 

 

 

Photo taken on January 8, 2015 shows Huang Yuanchao looking over raspberry plants

at his raspberry farm in Tianmen City, central China’s Hubei Province.    Photo by Cheng Min

 

 

 

 

 

 

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