Alibaba’s Evans: “This is the Chinese consumer”

Aslak Berge

Chinese consumers are “voracious” fish eaters and demand will continue to grow, says Alibaba.

The E-commerce giant and stock-exchange rocket was founded by Jack Ma in 1999 to connect lesser businesses — to make small businesses bigger — by using the Internet.

“We are just a 19-year-old company. We are young,” said Michael Evans, Alibaba Group’s president in China. A Canadian, he married a Norwegian girl from Bergen and is nearly on home turf at the city’s yearly North Atlantic Seafood Conference.

“Jack started with 18 staff and 50,000 dollars in his apartment in 1999. It’s worth a lot more today,” he said, teasing conference-goers.

Evans defines Alibaba as an ecosystem of digital media and entertainment, the core of shopping and local services tied together by financial services, logistics, Cloud services and marketing. The company has 580 million active consumers, delivers 60 million packages a day does 90 percent of its trade via mobile telephone.

“It isn’t just shopping. Alibaba is a lifestyle. It’s entertainment. We are both online and offline. We got that if we’re a lifestyle platform then consumers will stay with us all the time. We have about 18 billion products, just about everything that’s legal to sell. Everything from Maseratis to products from (foodstuffs giant) Orkla in Norway.

“Chinese consumers are young. They have increasing buying power. They come in to or are on there way in to the middleclass and they have a high rate of savings. These factors together with the Internet has allowed them see products they otherwise would not have been able to buy.

“What do they use their money on? They use more than 50 percent of that money on food and clothes. They want to be individualists. They don’t want to be like everyone else. The consumer trend in China today is enormous, and it will continue to grow,” Evans submitted.

Fish and seafood are naturally a part of the assortment. “Before, seafood was sold locally in China without any traceability or information about quality, apart from, possibly, the smell.”

Evans sees five drivers behind the demand growth: quality and food security; improved logistics and chilled storage; urbanisation; taste preferences for young consumers and increased demand for premium food.

“They have the opportunity to buy Nova Scotia lobster, Norwegian salmon and Argentinian red shrimp. It’s all brought in from abroad.”

Alibaba offers two models: direct sourcing (as in direct sales to Alibaba) and retail to the consumer.

“We’re all about giving consumers choice, because they have many alternatives,” Evans commented.


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