Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Manitoba fish off to China

Officials hope tags help future sales

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Local officials are using cargo-tracking technology to try and snag a potentially huge new overseas market for Manitoba fish.

CentrePort Canada Inc. and Freshwater Fish Marketing Corp. announced Friday that for the first time, radio frequency identification (RFID) tags have been used on a shipment of frozen, wild-caught, Manitoba walleye (pickerel) and lake whitefish that was exported to China earlier this week.

The tags guarantee that the fish have not been tampered with, are authentically Canadian, and are of a high quality, said CentrePort CEO Diane Gray. And that could be enticing for Chinese consumers who have serious concerns about the security and integrity of some of the food products sold in their country.

"And the interesting thing is that the RFID tags are attached to every single fish," Gray said.

Chinese consumers will be able to scan the tag at the fish counter and get all kinds of information about the fish. That includes the type of fish it is, where it was caught, the date it was caught, and the date it was shipped to China.

"They'll be able to see it was wild-caught, which is very important," Gray said. "That is considered a premium food in China."

She said China has a rapidly growing number of middle and upper-class consumers who are eager to buy authentic food products from Canada and other countries that have strong, reliable regulatory systems.

FFMC president and CEO John Wood said China has an abundance of carp, but consumers there want to be able to buy other types of fish. And they are willing to pay higher prices to get it.

"The RFID will help Freshwater differentiate ourselves and more effectively sell into this market," he added.

The 68 kilograms of Manitoba fish will be sold in an upscale food market in Shanghai, with a splashy product launch planned for Dec. 5. Gray said CentrePort and FFMC officials should know within a few days how well the fish was received. If it was a hit, that should pave the way for more shipments to follow.

If they find there is a good demand for frozen Manitoba fish, Gray said the next step would be to start exporting freshwater fish that hasn't been frozen, and then live fish.

"That (live) is the preferred way to buy fish in China."

The RFID technology, which was developed by Invent IOT Technology, is part of a new export tracking system and trading platform that was launched earlier this year by CentrePort to better move cargo from central Canada to China.

Last February, CentrePort used RFID sticky labels on China-bound packages of pork. And in May, it used a different type of RFID tag on containers of soybeans being shipped to China.

"It just shows how this technology can be adapted to all kinds of different products," Gray said. "We're pretty excited about it."

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 24, 2012 B10

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