We hear and read so much about the incredible rise and rise of China, but what does this mean for the baking industry? Historically, China has always been a rice-based culture, but as the barriers lower, the demand for Western-style wheat-based products increases. This demand is largely restricted to the emerging middle classes for economic reasons and, in percentage terms, this is still a relatively small but growing group of about 5% of the population.

However, China is all about the enormous population and so an uninteresting 5% transforms to an amazing market of 65 million people higher than the entire population of the UK and who wouldn’t see that as an interesting market to be part of?

In my time with Rich Products, I was lucky enough to visit China several times and, indeed, I helped to construct a bakery at Schuzuo to manufacture muffins and scones for a well-known coffee chain.

The products had to be the same as in the UK and the ingredients were initially shipped from England to guarantee authenticity. Once established, there was some fine-tuning to adapt to the local market and barbecue pork scones became a big teatime seller.

At the end of September, I was fortunate enough to host a visit to the UK by 26 of the leading Chinese bakers. They were treated to visits to an in-store bakery, various coffee shops, Rich Products, Simmons of Hatfield and Dunn’s Bakery of Crouch End. They were entertained at a traditional pub and, interestingly, the women enjoyed their pints of bitter rather more than the men. The finale was a seminar and dinner in the splendour of Bakers’ Hall although it has probably not experienced anything quite like a Chinese dinner in its many centuries.

I am organising a return visit to China in May 2012 to coincide with the Bakery China Show in Shanghai. This is a vast annual exhibition showcasing all that is happening in this rapidly expanding fascinating market. Apart from time at the show, there will also be market visits in Shanghai and Beijing, as well as time to see tourist highlights such as the Great Wall, Forbidden City and so on.

The growing influence of China is something that will increasingly affect us all, so this is a great opportunity to see what is going on and to be aware of the future before it arrives here.

The tour dates are 8-16 May 2012 although flights outside of these dates can be accommodated. I hope you can join me. Please write to me at dup@rexnet.co.uk for further details.