It’s no secret that China’s domestic soybean production has been declining since 2004/05, due to a change in their corn price support policy. Since then, China’s soybean import volume has been increasing to meet the growing demand from the crushing industry to supply the needs for soybean meal and soy oil. But an exciting new export development is China’s growing need for specialty soybeans for use in making soy foods and beverages.
Unlike in the U.S., essentially all of China’s domestic soybean production are non-GMO beans and nearly all are used to make food and beverages. Last year, China grew approximately 10.51 million metric tons (MMT) of soybeans. They are projected to increase production 11 percent this year. An impressive increase, but it’s not going to be enough. This year, demand for non-GMO soybeans for food use in China could exceed their country’s domestic production by over 20%. Essentially, China is projected to consume specialty soybean tonnage roughly equal to Iowa’s total 2015 soybean production. Enter - an opportunity for U.S. specialty soybean exporters.
Last year, China had a shortage and imported specialty soybeans from Canada and Russia to fill their food ingredient market gap. And that didn’t go unnoticed. In response to U.S. exporter feedback, USSEC funded a 2017 China Food Bean Export Initiative project, which included holding a U.S. Specialty Soybean Market Outlook Conference in Hangzhou, a city in the province of Zhejiang in eastern China on November 21. During the conference, USSEC China presented the 2016 U.S. Soy food bean quality survey report, and updated conference attendees on the current situation of the U.S. and Chinese non-GMO soybean supply and demand, and shared insights on China’s soy food industry future trends.
USSEC exporter members SunOpta and Grain Millers sent their China representatives to attend and speak at the conference, introducing their companies’ specialty soybean portfolios and supply capabilities. Both organizations assured the attendees that U.S. exporters could meet the Chinese customers’ demand by producing suitable varieties of soybeans backed with reliable and consistent quality and timely delivery.
Over the previous several months, USSEC’s staff in China had also made one-on-one industry visits to assess the U.S. specialty soybean food market opportunity in eastern and northern China. Work to expand U.S. soybean sales to China will continue throughout this year by connecting U.S. specialty soybean exporters with the Chinese soy food and beverage industry.