Yu Bencheng, 22, had planned on gaining a few years of working experience at an e-commerce company after graduating from the Shandong Vocational College of Economics and Trade last year. A crisis at the family business meant a change of plans.
Yu’s father is a well-known fruit supplier in their hometown of Yantai in Shandong province. Together with partners, they exported as much as 1,250 tons of pears to Russia a year. An abrupt stop to fruit imports by Russia left them with a year’s supply of pears piled up in cold storage. The younger Yu was called back to help the family survive the crisis.
Yu’s parents had first tried going to the wholesale markets in Harbin and Beijing to sell the pears, but the surplus stock had driven the price down to a third of the usual price. Faced with the prospect of financial ruin, the younger Yu decided to list the pears on Pinduoduo, the largest e-commerce platform for agricultural produce in China.
``I thought I would become the butt of people’s jokes (if it didn’t work out), but Pinduoduo enabled me to create a legendary success,’’ said Yu. After studying the promotional strategies on the platform, he managed to grow the orders from a handful a day to 1,000 per day.
"The crisis turned out to be a blessing in disguise for our family business,” Yu said. “As our export trade was blocked, we were forced to transform our business model and go online. In hindsight, this was a rehearsal to prepare us for the Covid-19 pandemic.”
During the height of the pandemic lockdowns, wholesale markets were shut, leaving farmers with fields and warehouses of unsold crops. Whereas other exporters chose to wait out the crisis, hoping that business would soon recover, Yu was spared the worst of the impact because he was already selling to domestic consumers through e-commerce. Pinduoduo’s campaigns during the pandemic to promote agricultural produce from hard-hit regions of the country also helped sales.
Even though Yu's venture into agricultural e-commerce was born of crisis, there were also lighter moments. “We had customers calling to complain that our pears were rock-hard and asked whether we were selling pears or rocks,” laughed Yu. It was a lesson learned and explanatory notes were soon prepared and affixed to the packaging.
The Yu family completed a 3,000 square-meter cold storage warehousing and packaging facility at the end of August. Armed with the successful experience of e-commerce, they have decided to expand from pears to other fruits.