'Amazon of China' Alibaba already has supermarkets. Now it wants our food

The business world may be enthralled with Amazon's moves to become a major supermarket player, but Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba says it is already strides ahead and is opening up new ways for Australia food producers to access its more than half-a-billion customers.

Alibaba has been an important avenue for Australia baby formula and vitamin producers to access the Chinese market, through its Alibaba.com wholesale website and its direct-to-consumer site Tmall, but Maggie Zhou, Alibaba's Australia and New Zealand managing director, said fresh produce now presented the greatest opportunity for growth.

Alibaba already sells some fresh products online and is pushing further into the category with its own supermarkets in China, opening 13 since 2015.

The company says it has tried to reinvent the supermarket experience at its Hema stores by removing the distinction between online and offline shopping, with shoppers using a smartphone app to make purchases and learn about products.

Each supermarket also serves as a fulfillment centre for online orders that can be delivered within 30 minutes.

"So if I'm an office lady, I can place an order after work and in 30 minutes the product is already in my home," Ms Zhou said.

The supermarkets already sell Australian fruit, vegetables and milk, and Ms Zhou said demand was set to grow thanks to the speed of its home delivery service.

China is Australia's largest food export market, selling more than $867 million of beef, $622 million of dairy products and $259 million of fruit and vegetables there last year, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Ms Zhou said many Australian businesses did not fully realise the opportunity China presented.

"In China, only on our platforms we have 529 million mobile users, so it's a huge opportunity," she said. More