Spanish Meat Company Noel Makes Major Progress In China
Spanish food company Noel recently signed a strategic agreement to export tons of products to China over the next two years. The company's managing director, Anna Bosch, explains how the company prepared for the deal.
Noel is one of the meat companies in Spain with the largest international footprint. It recently signed commercial agreements with HoReCa processing plants and distributors in China, where it's expected to export around 17,000 tons of pork through the end of 2021. As a result, the company, which is specialized in the production and distribution of cooked and cured ham, cold cuts and fresh meat, in Spain and abroad, has advanced its growth and international expansion strategy.
In this interview, the company's managing director, Anna Bosch, talks about this new deal and Noel's strong focus on becoming one of the main players in the industry on the international stage.
How has the Noel plant been equipped to meet the demand from this new agreement with different players in the Chinese HoReCa channel?
China is a demanding country and its approval processes stipulate specific requirements in terms of food quality and safety, which must be complied with. In this regard, at Noel we’re used to undertaking these kinds of processes due to our experience in obtaining the most stringent certifications in various fields. On this basis, we’ve adapted some of our processes to the Chinese regulations, we’ve expanded the refrigeration capacity of our plant in Olot, which houses the company’s fresh produce division, and we’ve also increased the workforce by recruiting 20 people.
How would you rate the lengthy process, including the audit, of the General Customs Administration of the People’s Republic of China that Noel has undergone in order to attain the approval required to export to this Asian market?
As I’ve said, at Noel we’re used to coping with highly demanding audits in terms of food quality and safety. This is why, when China launched the process to issue authorizations to export there in mid-2019, we decided to initiate all the procedures and we were quickly able to complete them and obtain approval.
Has it been necessary to adapt Noel’s products to the tastes and eating habits of Chinese consumers? Are products made exclusively for the Chinese market at Noel?
The main products we export to China are filleted or whole pieces of slaughtered pigs. That said, although it can’t be said that we’re making products exclusively for this particular market, it’s true that, in the case of some specific products, we’re modifying the type or refinement of the cuts so as to adapt them to the consumption and preparation habits of Chinese consumers. Moreover, due to the characteristics of its cuisine, it’s a market that enables us to place value on certain products which, although they aren’t consumed much in other countries, they are highly appreciated in China.
How important is internationalization in Noel’s strategic plan for the coming years? What are the main markets involved in this strategy?
Internationalization undoubtedly forms a key part of Noel’s strategy and it’s one of our strategic pillars. The company’s exports currently exceed half our annual turnover, with particularly high sales of chorizo and Serrano ham, and we operate in more than 66 countries, including the United Kingdom, Germany, France and also South America. As part of our international development plan we’ve focused on consolidating our presence in the markets in which we already operate and continuing our expansion with our sights set on the United States and China.
Marketing our products in external markets has also made it essential to constantly invest in maintaining and increasing our quality and food safety standards, which have been acknowledged with certifications such as the USDA, BRC or IFS, among others.
Bearing in mind all the lessons learnt by Noel throughout its long exporting history, what’s the international consumer’s perception of Spanish meat products? Has it changed over the last few years?
There’s no doubt that Spanish food products enjoy enormous international prestige. The country’s broad gastronomic tradition and the world-renowned Mediterranean diet have made it a benchmark in terms of the production of high-quality products. Some of them, such as olive oil, wine, Serrano and Ibérico ham and chorizo have even become the images of the country and our culture, thus contributing to strengthening the Spanish brand beyond its borders. This assertion definitely extends to the wide range of meat products produced in Spain, particularly pork. There is data available to support this, such as the fact that we’re the second largest pork producer in the European Union and the fourth largest in the world, as well as the fact that it’s the country’s most important livestock sector. On top of all this, it should be added that, over time, we’ve also become a model to follow on a global scale in terms of food quality and safety, as a result of our stringent production methodology and our ability to adapt our products to the needs of each market.
Text: Rodrigo García Fernández