A Westerner checking out China in the 1990s could hope evening meal hosts to offer you their guest “salad” alongside regional meals like Sichuan mapo tofu or Hunan pink-braised pork. The then out-of-place dish was the two a signal of regard for the visitor and a way of demonstrating that China was opening up to “outside” tips, even about delicacies. However, a Chinese providing of “sè-lā,” as the dish is pronounced in Mandarin, would usually continue being untouched. What handed for salad—diced potatoes tossed with Russian dressing, or a fifty percent-head of doubtful-wanting iceberg drenched in an indeterminate glop—wasn’t incredibly captivating alongside classic Chinese fare.
Credit Frenchman Xavier Naville for far better orienting salad in China. In “The Lettuce Diaries,” Mr. Naville recounts his unlikely story of generating a current market there for the variety of salad greens familiar to Westerners.
When he arrived in Shanghai in the summer months of 1997, the 27-yr-aged Mr. Naville was the impeccably dressed but woefully inexperienced head of finance for Asiafoods, a British-backed American startup that, like Sysco or Aramark, packaged “safe, hygienic meals” for “institutional canteens.” Inside two a long time he experienced uncovered not only rudimentary Mandarin but also “all about the challenges with vegetable sourcing and developing in China—in equally source and hygiene.” He experienced also chanced on a promising client, KFC, which needed a Chinese supplier of coleslaw and lettuce for its now additional than 300 rapidly-food stuff chicken restaurants on the mainland.
In the calendar year 2000, Mr. Naville and an American vegetable-prep marketing consultant spun off a couple of stainless-steel chopping tables at Asiafoods into a new enterprise, Resourceful Meals, that would turn out to be, in Mr. Naville’s terms, “the major fresh-food stuff firm in China.” Bite into a hen sandwich at a KFC in Shanghai these days, or purchase a bagged salad in a supermarket in Beijing, and there’s a superior opportunity the operation Mr. Naville introduced supplied the lettuce within.
Until eventually the arrival of Western-design and style rapidly food in the 1990s, “the Chinese seldom ate raw vegetables,” Mr. Naville remembers. “I understood from our canteen menus that to them, uncooked meals was not food items, period of time.” But once city diners acquired a taste for burgers and fries, uncooked salads grew to become less of a stretch. Young, recently affluent Chinese shoppers quickly arrived to like bagged, chopped, pre-washed greens for the reason that they were being as hassle-free as fast food but far far more nutritious. “They were being a new form of balanced meals that preserved more vitamins than stir-frying veggies in the classic Chinese way,” Mr. Naville writes. Within just 7 a long time of its start, he had offered Artistic Food at a $20 million valuation.