Shanghai representatives of the Hawaii Coffee Co. sample coffee flavors at the Hawaii exhibition at Shanghai Xintiandi.

Isle groups sow seeds
of aloha in China

The delegation hopes to drum up
business for Hawaii's economy

SHANGHAI >> It's the close of a week-long campaign to introduce Hawaii to the coveted China market in the Xintiandi area. Swathed in red dresses, dancers from Halau Hula Olana sway their arms. Chinese children crowned and spangled with plastic leis perch upon their parents' shoulders, enchanted -- even in 90-degree evening heat.

Adjacent to the stage, a glass and steel atrium offers air conditioning -- and a Hawaiian Marketplace with 17 display booths. Grannies eat slices of pineapple on toothpicks. Couples swoon looking at the beaches at Ko Olina. Families scan brochures to see what is offered at the University of Hawaii and Hawaii Pacific University. Children sneak another tiny sample cup of coffee from the Hawaii Coffee Co.

Hawaii's organizers couldn't be happier.

"This is one of the largest trade missions we've organized," said Steve Bretschneider, deputy director and chief marketing officer of the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

Hawaii officials are making an effort to court new business and foster cultural exchanges in China. The state took a delegation of more than 40 people, including Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona, to China last month to meet with government officials and business executives in Shanghai, Beijing and Tianjin. As part of the trip, "The Hawaii Experience at Xintiandi" ran for a week, ending Friday.

Shanghai residents gather around booths at "The Hawaii Experience at Xintiandi." The state took a delegation to China last month to meet with government officials and business executives in Shanghai, Beijing and Tianjin.

Penny Cheun, manager of events and promotion at Xintiandi, a strip of chic lifestyle shops, restaurants and clubs in central Shanghai, said the Hawaii trade mission gained a lot of contacts in the Chinese market.

"They were so warm and friendly. ... I really want to go there and visit them," Cheun said.

On hand to warm up the Shanghai spenders were Hawaii performers Willie K and Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom, Kapena, the Iona dance troop, Halau Hula Olana, Makana, Na Leo Pilimehana and Raiatea Helm.

"We brought 24 companies with us and are using entertainment, culture, art and music to create the buzz about Hawaii," said Bretschneider. Hawaiian culture is "the thin edge of the wedge to bring products and services that are uniquely Hawaiian to the market here."

According to a July report by KPMG and the market research firm of Taylor Nelson Sofres, 70 percent of 136 foreign consumer-goods companies in or about to enter the Chinese market are making profits or breaking even. The report also said that 23 percent of these companies are earning "significant" profits while 47 percent are in the black.

Paved with cobblestones and lighted with neon, Xintiandi is an entertainment block of upscale venues set in refurbished French colonial buildings from the 1920s and '30s. Thousands flock here every week. And spend big.

Starbucks sells mocha coffees for $3. People shell out several hundred dollars to buy silk "qipao" dresses from Shanghai Tang clothing store. Pasta plates go for $50 at restaurants like Va Benne. The First National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party was held here in 1921, but now Xintiandi showcases how China has been reinventing itself since it entered the World Trade Organization in 2000. Well-heeled Chinese from around the country come here and take the hottest trends back home. Planners hope they will bring back word of Hawaiian brands.

They just might. Shanghai resident Bao Tan, 41, a government administrator, took a liking to the hula dancers from Iona. "The ladies were very exciting," Tan said.

Hawaiian trade contingents also went to other cities to meet with government officials and retailers. In the city of Tianjin, on the coast an hour southwest of Beijing, a crowd of 2,000 were on their feet at a Hawaiian music and hula concert in the local opera house. UH representatives met with graduates who have formed an alumni group in Beijing to discuss promoting the school.

"We met retailers like Trustmart and RT. ... We learned a lot about retail strategies, had good consulate briefings. We're very pleased with the first step," Bretschneider said. "Most of our goods and services have yet to enter the market, except Dole."

Dole is one of the few Hawaii labels to have already entered the Chinese market. Dole juices, for example, are sold at a competitive rate. On shelves at the upscale City Supermarket chain in central Shanghai, 1.8-liter cartons of Dole pineapple juice sell for 22 renminbi, a little less than $3. By comparison, a carton of the same size of Ocean-Spray's Cran-Mango juice sells for 62 renminbi, about $7.50.

Other Hawaiian brand beverages such as desalinized deep-sea water Koyo and Hawaiian Natural Waters are two hopefuls that could break in.

Future plans include making "The Hawaiian Experience at Xintiandi" an annual event. They also are building the "China crossings" plan for 2007 where curators from Shanghai and Hawaii museums will swap places to learn about one another's culture.

"The China market is like a wave on the North Shore. It's big and it's coming," said Michael Nelson, director of marketing at Ko Olina Resort & Marina. "You can do two things: sit on the beach and watch it come in, or try to ride it."

Chris Cottrell is a freelance writer based in Shanghai.



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