The surprising success of the importing of a European artisan cheese culture to China, while a new trend for fine wine also takes off in Hong Kong, and discussions to submit plans to legalise casinos in Japan get underway.
With almost 20,000 murders in 2011 and the prevalence of armed robberies, companies have popped up in Venezuela to help protect civilians. Among those benefiting are armoured vehicle makers, whose customers increasingly include middle-class mothers not just diplomats.
The throng of customers at one table in the midst of Beijing’s roving farmers’ market offers insights into the changing tastes of the nation. Among the vegetables and rice wine, local entrepreneur Liu Yang is selling a product that many older Chinese find repulsive – he’s peddling cheese.
When Liu forsook a career in management to study cheese making in Corsica back in 2006, his friends and relatives were concerned. In China few adults even drank milk, in the past a drink associated with invading nomads. Many saw cheese as merely spoiled milk. “The first cheese I tried was Camembert,” Liu explains, “and I thought, this is not difficult to enjoy.” With that, he set about bringing European cheese culture to China, tapping into a trend that has seen 20 per cent annual growth, reaching 11,400 tonnes in 2009, when Liu was ready to launch.
Le Fromager de Pekin is now so popular that, when Monocle visits the farmers’ market, Liu has already sold 20kg of cheese to a line of Chinese buyers.
Perhaps predictably, Liu’s first customers were French expatriates living in Beijing’s foreign enclaves. For the first time this year more than half of Liu’s regular customers are Chinese. As a new generation tries on the trappings of a western lifestyle his products prove increasingly attractive.
A new dedication to provenance and quality, after a series of domestic food scandals, has also helped business and Liu now ships his cheese around the country. Liu plans to expand from his workshop on the outskirts of Beijing, adding a dairy farm to his business so he can oversee production from cow to table.
The first cheese Liu made in China was this Beijing Camembert. He plans to add truffles.
“People like this for the unique form,” says Liu. It starts out creamy and sweet and ages to become sharper in taste.
Liu is develo-ping a Beijing Brie, lighter in flavour than his other cheeses.
Hailing from a wine family and trained at a London fine wine auctioneers, Baldovinetti was one of the early traders to get a foothold in Hong Kong.
What is your background in fine wine?
My family has produced wine in Tuscany for centuries, so I was kind of born in the vineyards. It was obvious to me that the combination of a booming Chinese economy and the elimination of taxes on wine in Hong Kong would quickly create a wine capital in Asia to rival those in London and New York.
What are the major trends in Chinese wine?
Not surprisingly, the Chinese first discovered the top Bordeaux wines. But now they are looking into Burgundy and are also starting to be interested in Italian wines. They are broadening their scope very quickly.
Can Chinese domestic wines ever compete?
China is today the tenth largest wine producer by volume and will probably become one of the top five in the next decade. And they are actually importing in bulk and bottling locally too. But producing fine wine is another matter.
How important is brand in this market?
Brand has dominated so far but there is a shift towards real refinement. Many wine tasting clubs and schools are opening all over China and wine magazines are starting to develop versions in Mandarin.
What growth are you seeing?
Our wine fund has grown nearly 68 per cent since inception in 2008 – with the best selling labels on the Chinese market today being Burgundy wines from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Henri Jayer, as well as some top Italian wines from Tuscany.
Chinese wines have long had a dire reputation but Grace Vineyard is working to change that. Founded 15 years ago in Shanxi province, the firm focuses on low yields and high quality.
Grace now produces about two million bottles annually, mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. CEO Judy Leissner says there’s a difference between making good wines and excellent wines, however. “Excellent wine takes a long, long time. We’re nowhere close to that stage.” grace-vinyard.com
China’s consumption of western-influenced products has significantly grown in 2011:
Macau has put Asia top of the global casino market – and now Japan wants a piece of the action. A group of Japanese legislators plans to submit new laws that would legalise casinos in Japan, generating cash to pay for reconstruction following last year’s nuclear disaster.
In coffee shops the world over, baristas work away behind gleaming machines emblazoned with classic Italian brandnames such as Gaggia, Brasilia and Fracino. However, Fracino is English and started out in a garden shed in Birmingham almost half a century ago. Having only started exporting in 2007, more than 25 per cent of its market is now global – from Asia to South America.
“We had to give ourselves an Italian-sounding name, because we were selling into an Italian-dominated market,” explains managing director Adrian Maxwell. “But it was a genuinely incredible moment when our South Korean distributors asked us to put a Union Jack on the side of the machine.”
Now all of Fracino’s machines have British branding, with the company’s sudden international success being an example of the much-discussed 2012 manufacturing bounce of the UK. In fact, the 2007 downturn and subsequent collapse in the pound was the point when Fracino became truly competitive with its Italian counterparts in markets across the world.
“It’s actually our higher-end machines that have proved to be the most popular. People associate a certain stylishness with British manufacturing and design, and it looks like they’re prepared to pay for it,” says Maxwell. “Italy itself is becoming a healthy market.”
In a disused olivine mine near Maloy, the Lefdal Mine project is powering up what its backers claim is the world’s greenest data centre. “Cloud” computer storage is stamping an ever-increasing environmental footprint. By 2015 energy consumption to power and cool European servers will reach 100TWh, equivalent to eight million homes. Norwegian companies are harnessing the country’s renewable energy credentials and first-rate IT infrastructure to respond to the need for greener and cheaper storage solutions.
Once considered the most violent city in the world, Medellín has worked to improve its image. One business that underlines the changes is Fem Taxi, which employs male and female drivers but accepts only female passengers.
“There are many stories of women in our city who have suffered abuse in a cab,” explains Juan Felipe Gaviria, general manager. Drivers must have a clean driving licence and no criminal record. It’s going well (despite the appalling name). Fem Taxi started the year with 206 taxis and plans to have 1,200 by June.
Delhi’s Tihar Jail is notorious for playing host to a revolving door of politicians accused of corruption, such as former Commonwealth Games chief Suresh Kalmadi. But now it’s making waves for another reason: prison-made snackfoods, textiles and furniture. The TJ line has recently launched an advertising push and its own shops. Profits are expected to double from last year. “We’re sending a positive message to the public that the prisoners are working hard,” says spokesman Sunil Gupta. But whether this placates those who have seen millions allegedly embezzled by the inmates is yet to be seen.