Chinese Consumers Have a Taste For California Rice Varieties

    There is still no word that final signatures have been added to the China-U.S. phytosanitary protocol covering rice. While shipments cannot begin until that protocol is implemented, USDA/APHIS has begun to collect names of those mills, packers, and warehouses interested in participating in that trade.

    The USRPA can provide qualified parties with details on the protocol and the draft APHIS work plan if there are any questions, and will be submitting a list to APHIS of all interested parties. We urge everyone with even a potential interest to get on this first list, as there is no way to know when additions to the list will be accepted. So the answer to the headline is “yes.” But the “when” is not yet certain. In our last issue, we reported on the results of consumer testing of Southern medium and long grain milled rice in three Northeastern Chinese cities. Since that part of the country is a traditional medium and short grain consuming area, it was important to also sample rice from California.

    There are 2 reasons for focusing on California: The rice varieties grown in Northeast China are very similar to those planted in California, with both regions using Japanese varieties for their specialty markets. Secondly, California mills and affiliated industries are fully capable of meeting Japanese specifications, and those requirements are more stringent than those that will be required by China.

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    In other words, they are ready to go when the ink is dry. Consumers in upscale Aeon and China Vanguard supermarkets in Tianjin, Qingdao, and Shenyang were asked a total of 8 questions, focusing on their opinions of taste and quality. A rating scale (1-5, 5 being the best) method was used to quantify their reactions to the rice.

    Two California varieties were sampled. “Regular” Calrose medium grain was represented by “Komachi” brand from Far West Rice, and Koshihikari short grain was packed in “California Select” brand from American Commodity Company. While all five brands of rice received good marks, the California rice scored the highest. For perceived quality, Komachi was the clear winner at 83% fours and fives. California Select ranked second at 74%, and likely would have ranked higher if it has been as well-milled as the Komachi. Southern medium and long grains scored 66% to 69%.

    On the question on taste, the two varieties also ranked the highest. Komachi’s fours and fives totaled 78%, with California Select at 67%. Again, milling degree likely caused the difference, as even the least expensive rice in China is very well milled. The southern varieties scored 59% to 63%.

    The survey asked the question “How important is food safety and quality when making a purchasing decision?”  This gives us another insight into the willingness of the Chinese consumer to purchase U.S. rice, as the 448 individuals who sampled “Komachi” brand responded with 394 fives (88%). “California Select” also was tasted by 448 individuals, and 432 of them (97%) said “five” or very important.

    The week before Thanksgiving, APHIS-USDA (U.S. government) organized a conference call with the US Rice Producers Association and the USARF to update the industry on the protocol finalization step. The U.S. Government also asked both groups to assist with the process by gathering a list of companies within the industry who are interested and prepared for exporting to China.

    Thanks to funding awarded by the Foreign Agricultural Service of the USDA years ago, the US Rice Producers conducted the first Chinese consumer tastings and surveys that have provided the U.S. rice sector with valuable information. This research effort provided the support need to initiate a protocol process that has entered its final phase according to the U.S. government.

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