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Kiwi entrepreneur Jade Gray has gained invaluable insights into the Chinese market as a co-founder of Gung Ho! Ventures, a food and beverage group based in Beijing. As coronavirus began to take its hold over the world, Jade knew from experience how detrimental a health crisis could be. So, he started Asia Hustle, a podcast providing up to date insights into the goings on of the Chinese market, as a resource for Kiwi enterprises to stay in the know. We spoke to Jade about how New Zealand might utilise the Chinese market to aid our economic recovery...

New Zealand farming

What prompted you to start the Asia Hustle podcast?
Whilst in lockdown I was thinking of ways to assist New Zealand's response to the COIVD-19 crisis. Having lost my first business during the 2003 SARS epidemic whilst living in Beijing, I knew first hand the challenges an epidemic can present to a business owner. During that time I also kicked off my second business which is still thriving 17 years later, so that gave me insight into the opportunities that can subsequently arise from such events. The biggest lesson I took away from that time is that during a crisis, one needs to make critical decisions based on imperfect information.

I figured that given Asia accounts for 58% of our exports and that trade to China largely pulled NZ's economy through the 2008 GFC relatively unscathed, Asia will once again play a key role in any COVID economic recovery. By providing up to the minute insights from those in the midst of the action of those fast changing markets I figured Kiwi exporters will be better informed when it comes to making the tough decisions that COVID-19 will present.

What unique opportunities does the Asian market present to NZ companies?
The most unique opportunity that Asia provides compared to other markets is the rapid rise of their middle-class. This is a market opportunity unmatched by anything we have seen in our lifetimes, and will be one of the key forces to shape the 21st century at every level of global society, from global warming to economic prosperity. Due to the UK's accession into the EC/EU, NZ was forced to greater understand this complex market place earlier than most, and now almost 50 years later we have gained a solid understanding and are better prepared than most of our competitors to deliver solutions to satisfy this enormous middle-class consumer demand.

What do you see as the next steps towards an economic recovery in a post-covid world?
Clearly there can be no meaningful economic recovery without a meaningful health recovery, so developing and deploying a vaccination will be the key factor in that. Until then we can make significant progress through adapting as quickly as possible to our "new normal" whatever that looks like. Restructuring government bodies, companies, organisations, education institutions and the like to be far more agile and able to adapt to any future changes will be critical for the resilience and prosperity of New Zealand going forwards.

We also have a unique opportunity as a nation to reflect on how we want to position ourselves moving forwards in the global market, being honest around where our inherent sustainable advantage lies and how best to embody that into the key decisions and actions that we are currently making.

Do you think consumer behaviour will change as a result of Covid?
There will be change for sure. As to how much and how significant is too early to say. An obvious change will be the increasing uptake by consumers of digital technology. In comparison to Asian consumers, New Zealand consumers have been relatively slow in adopting online channels such as e-commerce, social commerce, new retail, etc. I feel the COVID lockdown has given Kiwis the impetus to greater explore these alternative commerce channels and will catalyse an increased uptake that will continue to build for years to come.

Do you believe New Zealand’s swift reaction to the pandemic, and our image as “100% Pure” will help our recovery in the Asian market?
Absolutely. Asian markets have always seen New Zealand as one of their most trusted trading partners. This reputation has been built over decades of exemplary commitment by both our public and private sectors to remain transparent and forthcoming in our actions and communications. This was never more illustrated than the handling of the 2008 melamine baby formula crisis in China. With Asian consumers now more cautious than ever and New Zealand's COVID response being one of those most heralded around the world, I can only see this playing well for our international image and subsequently our export offering so long as it is nurtured effectively.

Are there any opportunities you can identify that have arisen out of the pandemic?
I see the opportunity for New Zealand to position itself as the "Well-tech capital of the world" as the most exciting. We are already seeing a huge shift in global consumer spending towards wellness in all shapes and forms. There are the obvious categories such as healthy food and beverage and nutraceuticals that have seen an immediate boost, but as middle class consumers continue to re-evaluate their priorities in light of the pandemic we can expect to see this wellness trend significantly influence other key sectors.

In the future Asian parents will be looking to send their children to safer cities abroad, tourists will be looking for international destinations with proven health systems and governments will be looking to learn about advanced food traceability solutions. This all plays to New Zealand's inherent strengths and is a once in a generation opportunity to build on our tremendously successful "100% Pure NZ" campaign of years gone by. Imperative to this will be our ability to integrate digital technology into these wellness solutions that will determine the level of value it creates and our capacity to defend it.

If you could give a piece of advice to SME’s looking to expand into Asia, what would it be?
Enjoy the ride. Asia is a vast region with countless cultures and sub-cultures. Whilst I encourage SME's to research and learn about these fast growing markets, one should not rush into committing significant resources before gaining a solid understanding and some trusted partners. Dip your toe in the water in one or two niche markets and increase your engagement as you slowly build confidence. Take a long term view and enjoy the fascinating journey that comes with discovering Asia and the countless opportunities it offers Aotearoa.

Gung Ho! Ventures

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Part 12