SHANGHAI • As Chinese and US representatives cut into a rib in Beijing to mark the return of US beef to China after a 14-year absence, customers in Shanghai also started to receive the beef they had pre-ordered online via domestic retailers.
The beef sent to Shanghai homes via retailers like FruitDay is of the highest quality in terms of tenderness, juiciness and flavour, according to the standards of the United States Department of Agriculture, and is known as prime grade.
The reopening of the Chinese market to US beef, one of the first results from the China-US 100-day action plan reached in May, ends a ban triggered by concerns over mad cow disease in 2003, and may well start a new chapter in bilateral economic and trade cooperation.
US beef used to be extremely popular in China, accounting for as much as 70 per cent of China's beef imports at its peak, said Mr Lyu Ruiqing, head of Shenhong Cold Storage Company, as he inspected boxes of beef from Australia and some South American countries.
Driven by an ever-expanding middle class, China, the world's biggest pork consumer, is also a growing beef market fed by both domestic and foreign beef.
Data from China Customs showed that the country's beef imports reached around US$2.5 billion (S$3.4 billion) last year, compared with US$254 million in 2012.
"The market has great potential. Beef is increasingly popular among Chinese. In my restaurant, about 70 per cent of the customers are local and many are young people," said Mr Liu Xin, a steakhouse owner in Shanghai. "We mainly serve dishes cooked with Australian beef, but we are ready to change the menu when US beef is available this month."
Mr Yan Hongwei, vice-president of major meat dealer Shanghai Haibo Logistics, said the country became the world's second-largest beef importer in the last five years.
It remains to be seen how US beef will compete with products from the Southern Hemisphere.
"Flavour comes first," said Mr Liu. Over the years, Chinese consumers have been used to eating and cooking with Australian, Argentine or Brazilian beef, but US beef might be meatier and juicier, he said.
Mr Tao Jun, chief executive of Sizzle Market, said price also matters. He considered the return of American beef as good news as the price of imported beef may drop.