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Hazen Blue and Cabot Clothbound which is vastly different from that of Cheddar from the Cellars at Jasper the West. “The Chinese … are partial Hill. “Everybody in the booth thought to brown spirits and are crazy about our cheese was a magnet,” he says. The French wine — but are less prone to buy samples were snapped up eagerly. bottles of premium liquor to drink at Even if most Chinese have little home,” he says. “Retail sales of booze are knowledge of American cheese, there’s infinitesimal compared to on-premises another built-in market in the country, consumption.” Stephenson notes: expats. “There’s While the Vermont group was in Asia, a lot of Europeans, Americans and a nice serendipity occurred: Barr Hill Gin Australians living on the Pacific Rim, won a gold medal at the International especially in the major cities,” he says. Wine and Spirit Competition in Hong Maple has a slightly larger presence Kong, which Ross accepted on the comin the Chinese market, but that sector pany’s behalf. However, that doesn’t is still dominated by Canadians — and assure smooth sailing for the product that’s something Arnold Coombs thinks in China. The mainland has much more a lot about. A seventhcomplicated sales generation sugar channels, fees and maker and owner of tariffs than does Hong Brattleboro’s Coombs Kong, where Barr Hill Family Farms, he’s Gin is already sold. been marketing his “An important piece products abroad for of criticism we received 20 years and currently is that our product will sells in 33 countries. be really expensive Coombs, who was part in China,” says Weiss, of the Vermont ag delwho notes that a 47 egation, recalls being percent tariff is just one surprised to find one element of the costs of his maple products involved in exporting chu ck RoSS, VERmoN t for sale in a Chinese spirits to that country. SE cREtARY of AgR icu ltu RE store; a distributor had “I think that can be an shipped it there withasset, though,” he says. out his knowledge. “Some people know “We’re told we should target luxury cliabout it; some people don’t. It’s still a entele. People in China want what they raw market,” he says. can’t get. You have to create an image of Coombs took part in meetings with scarcity and exclusivity.” Chinese importers and distributors Weiss is neither surprised nor disthat had been set up by the USDA. He appointed that, like others on the trip, says “some meetings were on target, he didn’t make a single sale; he didn’t and some weren’t even close,” and that expect to. “Business in China takes exporting a low-margin commodity a long time. It takes guanxi,” he says, such as maple syrup “can be full of head- referring to the Chinese concept of aches.” Still, he thinks the Asian market business connections nurtured slowly is important to pursue. With maple — and sometimes aided by frequent gift production growing faster than current exchanges. (He handed out gin and raw demand, Coombs says, “we need to keep honey.) “The trip was a huge success, not developing our marketing.” necessarily in terms of any of us getting How do you sell a food product that direct sales,” Weiss says, “but in terms of isn’t used in Chinese cuisine? “A lot of the gaining a much broader understanding Chinese people we met didn’t express a of the market and how it works.” He met desire for other cuisines,” acknowledges with 20 people, he recalls, but considers Bardot Lewis, who found herself en- only two or three “potential partners.” raptured by fiery Szechuan dishes. She “As Arnold [Coombs] said, being in suggests that Vermont could introduce China was like being outside this big maple as an ingredient in glazes, sauces, mansion: You can tell there’s a party baked goods and ice cream, perhaps via going on inside, and we’re just rattling chefs. “Everyone loved tasting maple, the windows,” notes Bardot Lewis. but they were trying to figure out what Like Weiss, Ross thinks the trip laid the usage might be,” she says. important groundwork for future sales Caledonia Spirits’ Weiss, who once of local agricultural goods. But he was lived in southern China as a Fulbright glad to get home. In China, he found the scholar in ethnobotany, is also ponder- perpetual traffic “both impressive and ing that country’s consumption patterns entertaining,” but adds, “The air is so as he plots ways to sell Barr Hill Gin and thick you almost need a spoon to breathe other spirits. As a young student, Weiss it. You could taste the air. It really made was privy to Chinese drinking culture, me very glad to be a Vermonter.” m
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