Matt Jones, senior buyer, Reynolds

At Reynolds we don’t currently buy any fresh produce from China, but it is inevitable that the country will become increasingly more competitive on the global stage. My recent busman’s holiday to China was a real eye opener and an unforgettable experience.

My impression is that with a few small changes, notably improved technical expertise and the appropriate global accreditations, the Chinese export market will take off at supersonic speed.

During the trip, my companions and I travelled to a fresh fruit market on the outskirts of Shanghai. Similarities to our own UK produce markets are uncanny, although it was clear that the locals are yet to discover health and safety.

I did notice that a few popular western brands have a tremendous following here and international relationships are key selling points for the majority of sellers. Transit times from mainland Europe are 30 days minimum and there is a strong sense of anticipation for the arrival of each new container.

The markets are still the only source used by convenience, retail and independent stores in China. Displaying just a small percentage of their products, with trailer reefers containing the rest behind each pitch, stand holders are impressively vocal with their sell.

We saw one of the last harvests of Spanish oranges arriving that still looked outstanding. And it was clear that kiwifruit is a massive market here, with an abundance of golden and green varieties on show. Zespri has a huge presence and you cannot get away from the recognisable smell of ripe durian fruit.

The next day we travelled to Beijing on the bullet train. While in the capital we visited another market, with a specific focus on vegetables. We had not seen many vegetables on our trip, despite its strong presence in Chinese cuisine, but I was taken aback to say the least. I can only compare what I saw to a boot sale. There were a number of picnic tables and parasols flanking the open air area and a parked convoy of vans, lorries and bikes filled to bursting with freshly-picked vegetables from the early morning harvest. Product is weighed and packaged in front of you, with teams of people grading, re-weighing and selecting the standards to sell.

The produce was incredibly fresh and of a very high quality from the basic assessment I could make. Similarly to Shanghai, all types of businesses in and around Beijing would procure from this market so it was no surprise that everything was sold out on the day.

All in all it was a very eye-opening trip. Although we did not venture too far out of the cities, the Chinese’s passion and love for all they do is apparent and the atmosphere in the markets was a truly unforgettable experience.