Food & Beverage

Here's what the Chinese like best about Scotland

China's appetite for Scottish salmon

Appetite for Scottish salmon is booming in China, First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond told CNBC Thursday, before a five-day trade mission designed to strengthen ties between the two nations starting this week.

"Scottish salmon is doing really well. Exports of salmon to China have gone from literally zero to 250 million Renminbi ($41 million) in the past two years," said Salmond.

"As you would expect the Chinese have a very discerning pallet and they know quality when they eat it," he added.

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According to trade delegation body, Scottish Development International, the value of Scottish exports to China have boomed in recent times, nearly doubling from £265 million ($411.8 million) in 2007 to £498 million in 2012.

And growing appetite for salmon in both China and Asia as a whole has provided a considerable boost to the overall figure. Scottish salmon sales clocked up 37 million pounds ($59 million) in the first half of 2013, and China accounted for more than half of that.

Xu Yu, a 23 year old University Student in Beijing said Scottish salmon is considered an up market, luxury product in China.

"Scottish salmon is expensive. Any imported products are expensive especially if it is something up-scale like Scottish salmon. A couple of months ago, someone spent 1400 renminbi (roughly $230) for one kilogram of this Scottish salmon. Insane right?" he said.

"Because it is foreign, expensive and rather exotic, you have these sales going up. Not everyone can afford it though, my family will never spend money buying it because it's so ridiculously expensive," he added.

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However, media reports showed this week that the growing appetite from China may be more than the Scottish farming industry can handle.

Helena Smith | Dorling Kindersley | Getty Images

British newspaper the Guardian this week reported that Scottish salmon producers have fallen way behind their goal of increasing production by 60,000 tons, or 50 per cent of current levels by 2020.

The increased production targets were part of deal struck by Salmond in 2011, designed to position Scotland as China's preferred supplier. Just prior to the deal, the Chinese government had ditched Norway as its favored salmon supplier in retaliation for the decision by the Oslo-based Nobel organization to give the Nobel peace prize to jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo in 2010.

Xu said in his experience Scottish salmon did not really taste any different from other imported salmons, but added that foreign salmon was considered tastier than local products.

"I've eaten it in sushi rolls and to tell you the truth, I can't really taste the difference whether it is from Scotland, Norway or Australia. They all taste the same. But it sure tastes better than the local products," he added.

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Salmond is set to lead a delegation of oil,gas and construction companies as part of a five-day trade mission set to start later this week, in his fourth official trip to China.

A Scottish seafood showcase will also be held, in addition to events aimed at strengthening education links.

A committee of Scottish politicians (MSPs) championed a direct air link between China and Scotland in June this year,arguing it could be instrumental in increasing the country's trade and tourism industries, along with more Mandarin and Cantonese lessons, in a move to strengthen cultural ties.

"China is an economic powerhouse with the second largest economy in the world and it is crucial that Scotland strengthens its position as an attractive place for Chinese investors and an exporter of high quality goods for that market," said Salmond.

In addition to salmon, the Chinese middle classes are also behind an increase in exports of Scottish whisky, sales of which to China were valued at 71.5 million pounds ($115 million) last year.

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— By CNBC's Katie Holliday: Follow her on Twitter @hollidaykatie