A friend of mine with one of China’s leading online retailers just sent me an article listing out food and beverage companies that are using JD.com to market and sell their product in China. For more on JD.com, check out this week’s New York Times story on it. The article my friend sent me is entitled, China: JD.com expands imported food program.

Our China lawyers have long advocated a “distributorship-type” model as a lower cost and oftentimes better alternative for foreign companies looking to sell their products into China The following posts (going all the way back in 2010) detail why a distributor/reseller model can be a better way to “get into” China than via a WFOE or a Joint Venture and explain the ins and outs of such a model in China:

It makes particular sense for food companies to sell their food and beverage products into China through distributors and resellers. China’s food safety regulations, import laws and food and beverage distribution systems can be immensely complex, and someone like JD.com is likely going to be better able to navigate these things in China than you are.

But it takes more than just saying “yes” to a company like JD.com to succeed with selling your food or beverage products into China. Even if you end up using an established China food or beverage distributor for your products, you should, at minimum, do the following:

  1. Make sure that your agreement with your distributor/reseller protects your reputation in China and elsewhere.
  2. Make sure that your agreement does not lock you in with your distributor or reseller if sales are poor.
  3. Make sure to protect your intellectual property (particularly your trademarks) from both your distributor/reseller and from China and elsewhere.

For many American food and beverage companies, relationships with companies like JD.com make perfect sense, so long as they are done right.

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Dan Harris

I am a founder of Harris Bricken, an international law firm with lawyers in Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, China and Spain.

I mostly represent companies doing business in emerging market countries. It has taken me many years to build my network and it takes constant communication and travel to maintain it. My work has been as varied as securing the release of two improperly held helicopters in Papua New Guinea, setting up a legal framework to move slag from Canada to Poland’s interior, overseeing hundreds of litigation and arbitration matters in Korea, helping someone avoid terrorism charges in Japan, and seizing fish product in China to collect on a debt.

I was named as one of only three Washington State Amazing Lawyers in International Law, I am AV rated by Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory (its highest rating), I am rated 10.0 by AVVO.com (its highest rating), and I am a SuperLawyer.

I am a frequent writer and public speaker on doing business in Asia and I constantly travel between the United States and Asia. I most commonly speak on China law issues and I am the lead writer of the award winning China Law Blog (www.chinalawblog.com). Forbes Magazine, Fortune Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, Investors Business Daily, Business Week, The National Law Journal, The Washington Post, The ABA Journal, The Economist, Newsweek, NPR, The New York Times and Inside Counsel have all interviewed me regarding various aspects of my international law practice.

I am licensed in Washington, Illinois, and Alaska.

In tandem with the international law team at my firm, I focus on setting up/registering companies overseas (via WFOEs, Rep Offices or Joint Ventures), drafting international contracts (NDAs, OEM Agreements, licensing, distribution, etc.), protecting IP (trademarks, trade secrets, copyrights and patents), and overseeing M&A transactions.


    There is “harder” and “easier”. If anything, anywhere, is “easy” it may not be legal!

    Respectfully, to say JD.com is an easy solution in China may not be the whole story.

    The deeper story of an easier “how to” for a China cross-border-sales strategy must include the “how” of generating B2B and B2C sales from marketing efforts which are tied to quantifiable ROI.

    What do USA food and beverage sellers (and everyone else) really want from our investments in China? A store? A portal to an online presence? A space in social media with a collection of brand ambassadors in a community of followers and an invoice to service it? No. They want a return on investment, in the form of monetary profits from sales. Easy or hard doesn’t matter, output for input does.

    As the NYT article explains the founder of JD.com has a spot on the long and littered trail behind us of those who opened up a shop in China and lost money. That does looks easy with plenty of illegality to boot!

    From my research in getting answers to the question that matters; “What is the greatest legally derived output weighed against the related input?” the guys behind China Digital Review seem to pass muster in helping to deliver what USA food and beverage sellers (and everyone else) really want from our investments in China… a return, in the form of monetary profits.

    From http://www.chinadigitalreview.com/e-commerce-uncensored-2/

    “Nevertheless, Amazon.cn has launched a cross-border model allowing Chinese access to a growing number of Amazon.com stores, and JD is expected to be announcing its cross-border offering by Q2 2015. Benefits of localization and logistics can be depended on. But don’t expect any easy advertising solution to the problem of how a non-Chinese entity can drive traffic.”

    Yes, opening the door with jd.com may be easier, getting the traffic is harder, and completing and servicing the sale can be just as easy or as hard as you want to make it. How hard to you want to make it?

  • Hey Dan,

    Very nice article. Thanks for informing about China beverage market.