Thursday, September 10, 2015

Promoting Washington agriculture overseas

Communications Office

In a small sandwich shop on a narrow Tokyo street, the cashiers and servers now sport T-shirts that say “I love Washington fries,” mementos of a recent afternoon when a few visitors dropped by to share some spuds with surprised customers expecting nothing more than a sandwich.
Gov. Jay Inslee hands out free fries in Tokyo.

The visitors included Gov. Jay Inslee, WSDA Director Derek Sandison, and members of the state’s Potato Commission, all in Tokyo as part of a 9-day trade mission that wrapped up Sept.5. The Governor-led trade mission made visits to Seoul, South Korea, Kobe, Japan and Tokyo. While other industries were also being promoted, the ag delegation focused on blueberries, potatoes, and wine.

Korea and Japan are important countries for Washington agriculture. Japan is the state’s leading market for agricultural exports and Korea the 5th largest market. Led by Director Sandison, the ag delegates visited the leaders of several key businesses in both countries that import or process Washington agricultural products for local consumers, expressing their appreciation for the trade that is already taking place and interest in greater trade to come.

Again and again, delegates heard the value that consumers place on Washington agricultural products, from the cherries that fly off the shelves of the busy Costco Korea when they’re in season, to the chipping potatoes that can’t keep up with demand of Japanese potato chip processors. Delegates also gleaned information that can help inform marketing decisions later. 
Honey butter chips, a popular
Korean snackfood.

One example, consumers in Korea were recently in a frenzy for a potato chip company's  honey butter flavored chips, with lines for the chips so long, some stores placed two-bag limits on customers. The craze has increased demand for chipping potatoes as competing companies looked for their own flavor angle, and this boost in demand could spell benefits for Washington potatoes in the future. 

The team also met with government officials in both countries to raise market access issues. For blueberries, the goal was pressing for access to South Korea. Fresh Oregon blueberries were allowed into the country beginning in 2012, but Washington is still waiting for similar access.

Frozen blueberries, Costco Korea
In Japan, Washington potatoes are permitted only for part of the year. Washington potato farmers, as well as food processors in Japan, would like year-round access for our spuds.

Dancers at a reception for the
Washington State delegation
Government led trade missions can open doors for delegates that might not be available to them otherwise, providing them a chance to raise trade concerns at the highest levels. The trips also provide opportunities for potential buyers to meet producers and importers, making the kinds of connections that can translate into lucrative business relationships later.

Washington exports about 30 percent of its agricultural products, so keeping markets open and importers happy is important. Trade missions can be an important way to do this. You can track future trade missions, and visits from our overseas customers, at the WSDA International Marketing Program webpage, where all such events are listed.