Dumplings, pork, beef and chicken have usually been the traditional festival dishes in Zhang Yuan's home, but the 31-year-old brought a bit of exoticism to the table for the Chinese lunar new year in 2017 - lobsters from the U.S.
In early January, the white-collar worker in Shijiazhuang, capital of North China's Hebei Province, bought six live Maine lobsters from JD.com Inc, China's second-largest online retailer by sales.
“I was surprised that I could get fresh Western seafood the day after I ordered it,” Zhang told the Global Times on Saturday.
Maine lobsters are native to the Atlantic coast of North America. The species, which can grow up to 64 centimeters long, is sometimes called the king of crustaceans.
Yet, Zhang didn't consider the -lobsters expensive on jd.com, where they sold for 325 yuan (.1) a kilogram.
It was the first time Zhang bought lobsters from the U.S., but she didn't think it would be the last. Besides being affordable and delicious, the lobsters turn a deep red when boiled, which makes for a nice trapping for holidays and celebrations, she said.
Plus, they were a hit at her family's lunar new year dinner. “My entire family raved about them,” Zhang noted, beaming with pride.
It turns out that the Zhang family was far from the only Chinese family to buy fresh food from the U.S. before the lunar new year.
“In the month leading up to this year's Spring Festival, sales of fresh produce from the U.S. increased eightfold versus a year ago, with sales of American lobsters up over fifteenfold,” Josh Gartner, a spokesman of jd.com, said in an e-mail to the Global Times on Wednesday.
From U.S. nets to Chinese doorsteps
It appears that most Chinese consumers had never heard of Maine lobsters before 2010, when China imported about .4 million worth of the clawed crustacean, according to an Associated Press report in late March this year.
As China's middle class has developed more cosmopolitan tastes, the demand for lobsters from the U.S. has grown, said a Shanghai-based businessman surnamed Xia, who has been selling imported lobsters from the U.S. both online and at his own stores in the city for the last four years.
Xia told the Global Times on -Thursday that his lobster sales have been rising 10 percent to 20 percent a year.
In January, Chinese importers like Xia bought 777 metric tons of live whole lobster from the U.S., worth .1 million - up 281 percent year-on-year, according to a report released on Saturday by Norway-based seafood information provider IntraFish.
Affordable prices and improved logistics were also responsible for U.S. lobsters' rapid entry into the Chinese market.
It takes less than 72 hours by air to deliver a live Maine lobster from fisherman's net to Shanghai doorstep, Xia said.
Businessmen like Xia have certainly benefited from the rising Chinese demand for American products, but so has the lobster industry in Maine, one of the largest aquaculture states in the U.S.
The Chinese market has been vital to the revival of Maine's lobster industry, which took a hit from fall prices in 2012 amid a supply glut, the Washington Post reported in 2016.
It produces more than 45 million kilograms of lobsters each year, the most in the U.S., according to a press release issued in late March by the Maine In-tern at ion al Trade Center (MITC).
Jeff Bennett, senior trade specialist with the MITC, said Maine has opened an office in Shanghai to chase more Chinese investment, the Xinhua News Agency reported on Wednesday.
The lobster industry demonstrates that the U.S. and China have a lot of mutual economic interests, which suggests the two government ought to pursue a policy of cooperation, said Wang Jun, a senior economist at the Beijing-based China Center for International Economic Exchanges.
Trade between China and the U.S. hit 9.6 billion in 2016, according to data from China's Ministry of Commerce. By the end of 2016, mutual in-vestment surpassed 0 billion.