WA innovators raising Australian meat stakes in China

Zach RelphCountryman
Latitude 28’s Jarryd Morton, Rhys Williamson and James Williamson are focusing on capitalising on growth in China’s meat demand.
Camera IconLatitude 28’s Jarryd Morton, Rhys Williamson and James Williamson are focusing on capitalising on growth in China’s meat demand. Credit: Samuel Hesketh photography

For James and brother Rhys Williamson, alongside long-time friend and former Hawthorn Football Club utility Jarryd Morton, Latitude 28 is more than a brand.

The company, founded by the trio about three years ago, is an avenue to sell Australian-sourced and produced beef and lamb direct to Chinese consumers through marketing techniques to “humanise global consumer interactions”.

The concept is simple in theory but difficult to achieve, James admits while speaking to Countryman at Latitude 28 headquarters on St Georges Terrace.

To reach the goal, blockchain technology has become critical for James and Rhys, who grew up near Geraldton, and Jarryd, raised at Lake Grace, to bridge the distance between Australian shores and the Chinese mainland.

An app Latitude 28 has developed, Orijin Plus, is also aiding the cause by using blockchain to allow consumers to authenticate the product.

The verification system is a secure database allowing the Hale School graduates to share supply- chain information with consumers to improve product security from paddock to plate.

Although it provides scope for the company to overcome China’s counterfeit product problems, James said the technology alone was not driving sales.

Consumers are needing to be educated about the benefits of an authenticated supply chain first,

he said.

“Therefore just simply providing a blockchain verified product will not drive sales.

“Fortunately for Latitude 28, an ability to engage and interact directly with their consumers via social media and e-commerce platforms is proving to be a winning formula.

“It is creating a whole new brand experience not yet seen in the Chinese market.”

James and Rhys moved to China for 12 months to learn Mandarin in 2013 — a decision now firming as the catalyst to bolster Latitude 28’s engagement strategy and blockchain approach.

Last month, short videos featuring Rhys preparing and cooking food while speaking Mandarin amassed more than 6 million views across Chinese social media platforms including Weibo and Douyin.

Jarryd Morton, Rhys Williamson and James Williamson’s social media success is promoting Latitude 28 to Chinese consumers.
Camera IconJarryd Morton, Rhys Williamson and James Williamson’s social media success is promoting Latitude 28 to Chinese consumers. Credit: Samuel Hesketh photography

Filming Rhys at locations in Shanghai and throughout WA has improved Latitude 28’s online presence, while also making the company more relatable to Chinese consumers.

Despite taking time to determine what content was well-received within the Chinese market, James said the improved engagement was underpinning Latitude 28’s brand awareness.

“We want to be the face of our own brand internationally,” he said.

“One video has had about 2 million views, about 200,000 likes and about 3000 comments.

“A lot of the comments are ‘where is this?’, ‘where are you?’, ‘where can I buy the meat?’, ‘you’re going to be a celebrity’.

“Luckily for us, by speaking Mandarin, we have that ability to engage through these videos.

Most Chinese millennials don’t watch TV, they spend time on these apps . . . and the people watching have become genuine fans.

A report from market research and consulting company iResearch, released in 2017, found “online celebrities” in China with more than 100,000 followers had increased by more than 50 per cent in a year from 2016.

Latitude 28 has generated more than 114,000 fans across its social media accounts in the last month.

Latitude 28's profile on Chinese social media platform Douyin has amassed almost 100,000 fans in a month.
Camera IconLatitude 28's profile on Chinese social media platform Douyin has amassed almost 100,000 fans in a month.

The study also noted a rise in relatable English-speaking foreigners bringing their brand to China were among the wave of new social media influencers.

China’s growing online celebrity trend fuelled the prevalence of multi-channel network, or MCN, agents finding and recruiting talent to manage their online presence on various social media platforms.

In the wake of the recent online popularity, MCNs have contacted Latitude 28 with hopes of working with the WA-founded company.

James said he was overwhelmed Latitude 28’s social media approach had generated interest in the meat products.

“It’s welcoming to have the professional social media companies, which manage talent, come to us and say ‘you guys could become quite big’,” he said.

“The social media engagement could really underpin the blockchain.”

Latitude 28 stores its meat products in eight Chinese warehouses, allowing the company to offer overnight delivery direct to customers.

To keep up with the workload, Rhys has been based in Shanghai for the past four months living a “dual life between China and WA”, co-ordinating the Chinese operations with the company’s China manager Yayou Fu.

James is scheduled to move to Shanghai with his wife and two daughters in March in an attempt to strengthen Latitude 28’s Chinese foothold.

Reluctant to be satisfied with the early success, James said more hard work was still to come.

“We’re still at base camp at the moment and the mountain is in front of us,” he said.

“But, we are in a really exciting stage of the business with what is to come.”

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