Last summer’s U.S. beef burger promotions at two Shanghai Sam’s Club stores were so successful that USMEF expanded the activity to two more of China’s largest cities – Shenzhen and Beijing. Funded by the Agricultural Trade Promotion Program (ATP) and the Beef Checkoff Program, U.S. Beef Burger Festivals in those two cities encouraged Chinese consumers to prepare and serve U.S. beef patties in new and innovative ways.
Cooking demonstrations, tastings and hamburger-making classes for children were part of the effort, which introduced dishes like pan-fried patties in cream of mushroom soup, spaghetti and meat balls and mini burgers – as well as classic American hamburgers – to Sam’s Club shoppers.
“The Shenzhen and Beijing Sam’s Club locations took great interest in what USMEF did at the two Shanghai stores earlier in 2019, so we tweaked things to meet dining habits and preferences in two cities where people often cook and eat differently,” said Ming Liang, USMEF marketing director in China. “Beef patties have sold best in eastern China, but consumers in northern and southern China have been slower to adapt to the burger trend. The goal of the most recent burger festivals was to introduce new consumers to the U.S. beef patty – not only for making the classic hamburger, but also for other types of dishes.”
At the Shenzhen and Beijing festivals, chefs led interactive sessions, preparing U.S. beef burgers while providing cooking and serving tips to Sam’s Club customers. In Shenzhen, USMEF introduced concepts like changing the shape of the beef patty to make mini-burgers and meat balls and adding ingredients like dried orange peel to create unique flavors. Consumers with children were most interested in the mini burgers, while pan-fried and steamed meat balls, beef soup and a variety of Cantonese-style dishes made with beef attracted older shoppers.
More than 500 people at the Shenzhen store sampled U.S. beef served three different ways: Pan-fried patties on bread with ketchup or mustard, pan-fried mini meat balls reshaped from the patties and accompanied by teriyaki sauce, and pan-fried filet of beef barbecued with ginger and spring onion.
Food bloggers and social media influencers were invited to participate in the tastings. They shared their experiences on WeChat and on dianping.com, the region’s most popular “looking for food” platform.
“With the help of social media, we not only educated the shoppers who visited Sam’s Club for the festivals, but also thousands of people who turn to these platforms to learn about food and make shopping decisions,” said Liang
Chefs at the U.S. Beef Burger Festival in Beijing presented a U.S. beef showcase featuring five dishes that gave consumers ideas how to use beef patties in their own kitchens. U.S. beef mini burgers were the focus of the tastings. Cooking classes organized by USMEF focused on teaching young Chinese consumers how to make classic American hamburgers.
The chefs also provided lessons on preparing other U.S. beef items. For example, “Many people in China still pan-fry steak using butter and heavy marinate, but during the cooking classes our chef emphasized that high-quality U.S. beef only needs to be cooked with salt and black pepper for wonderful flavor and aroma,” said Liang.
Walmart opened the first Sam’s Club in China in 1996. That initial store in Shenzhen has been followed by 23 more locations in 19 cities, serving more than two million members. Walmart has announced that it plans to have a total of 40 Sam’s Club stores in China by the end of this year.
Liang said the burger festivals – including the first one held in Shanghai – have helped Sam’s Club realize U.S. beef’s potential in the marketplace. The stores have primarily been selling Australian beef, but U.S. beef’s return to the Chinese market provided the company an opportunity to expand its offerings and has allowed Sam’s Club customers to compare the flavor and quality of U.S. beef with Australian product.
While U.S. beef is still getting its footing in China, exports have picked up in recent months. Through November of last year, beef exports to China were a modest 8,782 metric tons, but this represented a 34% increase over the same period in 2018.