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A Chinese visitor asks for the price of a canned infant formula at a store, in Hong Kong February 9, 2015.

REUTERS

The Canadian food industry is missing out on huge export opportunities in China because it's not doing enough to promote the country's "quality food brand," a new report says.

Canadian food products are virtually invisible in China, according to a report being released Tuesday by the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute.

"With some noteworthy exceptions, Canadian food remains off the radar for most Chinese consumers and retailers," concludes the report, Competing in the World's No. 1 Emerging Market.

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"Chinese retailers don't think about Canadian food as a source to help them meet their customers' food desires," the report added.

Canadian food exports are still heavily concentrated in commodities, such as beef, pork and seafood.

But even in those products, Canada's share of Chinese imports remains in single digits, the report said.

Exports of processed foods are dominated by one product – canola oil. Canada sold about $1.2-billion worth of canola oil to China in 2013. Canada also sells small quantities of wine, canned seafood and chocolate.

It isn't for lack of opportunity. Chinese food imports quadrupled between 2004 and 2013, and now total more than $100-billion a year.

Several major Chinese retailers surveyed by the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute expressed "an interest in sourcing more quality processed products from Canada."

Exporters, with help from government, should be "positioning a Canadian brand that better profiles Canadian ingredients, foods and beverages, and differentiates Canada from other quality importers," the report said.

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A series of high-profile food scandals have made many Chinese wary of domestic products, creating new opportunities for exporters.

The report cites at least 13 incidents dating back nearly 15 years, including cases of pork treated with chemicals to make it look like beef, pork harvested from dead animals and milk laced with melamine.

"Food safety continues to be a preoccupation for high-end consumers and middle-class consumers, or those who can afford western foods," the report said. "They want assurances that what they consume is authentic."

To break through in China, the report recommends showcasing Canada-branded items, targeting large retailers and online merchants, developing a road map for navigating China's complex regulatory regime and demanding better market access for key products.

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