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Carving a market for Spanish ham

 Photo: Quality Teruel ham label.
 Quality Teruel ham label.
Not for nothing does the famed Jamón del Consorcio Serrano (or Serrano ham) require a quality seal from Spain's food inspectors, who apply rigorous standards. The ham is one of the country's best-known food exports and is set to make its mark on the tables of affluent and knowledgeable Asian diners.

So far, just over US$700,000 worth of Serrano hams have made their entry into the Hong Kong market in each of 2008 and 2009, but the SAR is seen as a licensing and distribution point for much larger Chinese mainland trades in the future.

Knowing that a huge new market is being carved out ahead, Spanish producers have not been idle. Producers in Teruel Province, one of the country's prime pig farm and ham production regions recently met the owner of privately-held Hangzhou Wahaha Group, the Mainland's largest beverage producer and distributor of dairy products.

Zong Qinghou - among the Mainland's wealthiest tycoons - has been looking for quality products for a new chain of Chinese mainland shopping centres, with the accent on dependability, which is a prized element in a domestic sector often seen as lacking essential standards.

To this end, Zong held a meeting in Madrid with about 30 Spanish companies, most in the food industry. Among them was Jamcal, a Teruel firm.

The opportunities look good, Jamcal executives believed, due to success so far in Hong Kong, where, according to a report by the Spanish Economic and Commercial Office in the SAR, consumption of Serrano ham is increasingly popular despite market saturation with competing products.

Photo: Opportunities for trade look good. Photo: Donaire: lengthy process familiarising Mainland consumers.
Opportunities for trade look good. Donaire: lengthy process familiarising Mainland consumers.

According to an attendee at the meeting, Fernando Donaire, Managing Director of Jamcal: "it is always good that an agreement with the [Mainland] Agriculture Ministry has been signed and that they have remembered us."

But Donaire conceded that the project is likely to be a process of familiarising Mainland consumers with the product, and that could be lengthy.

Jamcal was accompanied by representatives in the Spanish dairy and oil sectors, including Leche Pascual, Leche Asturiana, Grupo Hojiblanca, Aceites La Española and Grupo Ybarra.

The Wahaha Group also showed particular interest in powdered milk supplies for babies, a particularly contentious subject on the Mainland following a serious tainted milk scandal last year.

Hong Kong connection

Photo: Demonstration to slice ham in Hong Kong. 
Demonstration to slice ham in Hong Kong. 
Serrano ham is exported from Spain to Hong Kong either in whole leg pieces, packaged in slices or boneless.

The Spanish offering is the fourth largest by volume of sales, ahead of France and the US but behind Italy, according to the Economic and Commercial Office.

Jamón Serrano is a product deeply rooted in the history of Spain and the pig is virtually a cult object, hence its veneration as a food.

It's produced by storing the ham in both low temperatures and under high humidity, followed by salting, post-salting, dry curing and maturation.

The temperature is gradually raised and humidity reduced, achieving a fusion of fats and even distribution throughout the muscle tissue to develop colour, aroma and taste.

 Photo: Hung Spanish ham for processing.
 Hung Spanish ham for processing.
To boost the export of products from Teruel, a company was formed, Spain Jamón Origin SA, to promote exports under the Jamón de Teruel brand.

The brand was formed by seven producer companies, with the savings bank Caja Rural de Teruel.

Exports already go to Sweden, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, while an undisclosed agreement with a distributor in Hong Kong aims to open a gateway into the Chinese mainland market.

Growing in spite of the crisis

Exports of Spanish ham have grown at 10.8% per annum, equivalent to approximately 200,000 Iberian hams exported per annum.

These results, especially significant in the midst of an economic crisis, are due to the increasing presence of Spanish hams under branding in international markets.

Photo: Larger slice for international profits. 
Larger slice for international profits. 
The main destination for Spanish ham is the EU, which represents 86.4% of exports.

Outside Europe, the most important destinations are Mexico, whose annual growth lies at 48% and is the fifth largest purchaser, followed by Brazil, Australia and the US.

In Spain, two types of ham are produced, one coming from the white pig corresponding to 90% of production and the other from the Iberian pig.

One of the most important tasks of the Consorcio del Jamón Serrano Español, which was formed by 17 companies, was to promote an international brand in the world market and since 1990, thanks to a substantial investment in advertising and promotion, it has achieved that.

from special correspondents Isabel Herrero and
José M Alarcón, Barcelona

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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