Organic goes online: College students carve out niche in China’s booming ecommerce market

by Sasha Grebneva

Organic food is a trend all over the world. However, China has been slow in embracing the pesticide-free production system. But Jiarui Yang and some of her friends think this dearth of organic food is a business opportunity, and they started a company called Evergreen Agriculture to improve access to organic and safe products in China.

Evergreen Agriculture was founded in November 2014 by students from Beijing Normal University and Qingdao University. The company’s main goal is to sell organic products.

Jiarui Yang-1
Founder of Evergreen Agriculture working in her office in Beijing. She is still a college student at Beijing Normal University. Photo by Aleksandra Grebneva.

Yang, a computer science and business major at Beijing Normal University, is one of the three founders of the company. She is responsible for the technical side of the project, as well as for the accounting.

In many ways, organic farming does not come naturally to Yang, she was raised as a very traditional Chinese child. She spent her childhood in a rural area of Hebei province in her grandmother’s house. Despite the fact that she is a urban citizen now, her biggest dream is “to have a 10 mu (the Chinese measurement that is equal to 614.4 m2) farm.”

In the meantime, she is a student entrepreneur. Yang is scheduled to graduate from the university next year, but her earnings have covered her expenses. Her salary is small, but it is still enough for her to live on.

At the beginning, Evergreen Agriculture participated in events to attract both investment and interest in their project. Despite their efforts, progress was slow, and they were rarely noticed among the competitors for venture capital. Everything changed one day in spring 2015, when Qingdao University invited them to represent the school at a student initiative competition. They not only managed to attract great interest in their business, but also received both university and governmental grants.

Despite the popularity of internet commerce in China, e-commerce sales of farm products stand at RMB 100,000 million, just 3 percent of the entire agricultural sector. Yang sees this as an opportunity to fill this niche market.

Evergreen Agriculture has accounts for both WeChat and Weibo, as well as its own website. The company’s marketing strategy is based on the belief that today’s biggest business will come through a personal approach to sales. This is possible due to the wide variety of communication tools made available through the internet. The founders believe that 24/7 fast web responses to every customer is better than old-fashioned offline customer relations.

“Our benefit is that we sell organic products for a reasonable rate,” Yang said, referring to the company’s rivals.

Consumers interested in food safety are willing to spend more. One jin (the Chinese measurement of weight, which is equivalent to 0.5 kg) of eggs costs RMB 20, compared to 10 RMB for non organic eggs at a campus grocery shop.

“Everybody should think about their health,” Yang said. “Do you think your stable health condition doesn’t cost this amount of money?”

Evergreen Agriculture has the ability to transform the organic industry in China through the Internet, where ordinary people have an access point to organic products. This ethos fits the main motto of the company: “Green products bring health to homes” (万绿到家,健康到家). Green products could also bring financial health to the college students who launched the company.

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