Friday, August 18, 2017

International trade visit puts Washington fruit front and center


Among its many trade support services, WSDA’s International Marketing Program facilitates trips for international buyers and Washington state producers. These trips, referred to as trade missions, put representatives from both sides of the trade relationship together so one can learn more about the crops and markets of the other. 

A recent “inbound” trade mission welcomed representatives from Southeast Asia, Mexico and Central America. WSDA trade specialists Rebecca Weber and Julie Johnson organized this large group that represented international markets interested in the fresh produce Washington offers. 

Apples and boxes travel on conveyor belts through the Stemilt packaging facility.
The delegates, representing import, retail, distribution and wholesale industries, expressed interest in looking for fruit suppliers, which made the Washington state portion of their trip an ideal opportunity.

In Yakima, the Washington State Fruit Commission delivered a briefing before the buyers participated in one-on-one meetings with 15 different Washington-based companies. Connecting buyers to suppliers is one of the primary functions of the international marketing program.

"These meetings created an opportunity for buyers to meet with known suppliers or build relationships with new ones," trade specialist Julie Johnson said.

In Wenatchee, the Washington Apple Commission also provided a market briefing to buyers, setting the tone for the day's tours of fruit packaging facilities and an orchard.

A day of Washington fruit

At Stemilt Growers, the large group of delegates was split into smaller tour groups organized by language. Two new international marketing team members, Zachary Garza and Elisa Daun, were a valuable addition to the trip. Both trade experts, they have additional multilingual skills; Zachary is a fluent Spanish speaker, and Elisa is fluent in Mandarin. 

The tour guide gathered attendees around him and discussed current and future apple trends, with an emphasis on Cosmic Crisp. Group members asked about the new variety’s color and size, and whether and when they’d be packaged and sold. 

The guide described Cosmic Crisp’s bright color and lustre, adding that it was an ideal size for packing and shipping.

Workers sort through cherries at the Domex Superfruit Growers packaging facility.
The group then made its way to Domex Superfresh Growers, where general manager Ron Gonsalves led the group into a hallway where the packaging process could be seen. “See all this? This is new,” he said, gesturing toward the room of machines and workers. Half of the facility was lost in a fire two years ago. 

But that day, in the middle of an industry-wide cherry processing peak, an unknowing observer couldn’t have guessed at the facility’s loss. Stainless steel machines hummed and workers combed through piles of cherries, separating leaves from fruit. 

Domex Superfresh Growers is one of the largest cherry lines in the state. At the peak of cherry season, it packs up to 2,000 bins per day, and workers pack in shifts 7 days per week to keep up.

A worker at Domex Superfruit Growers separates leaves from the cherries.

At the next stop, McDougall and Sons’ Legacy Orchard presented visitors with rows of ambrosia apple trees. Scott McDougall talked with the group about varieties and orchard operations. Learning about the goals and challenges fruit growers have gave visitors more context for how fresh fruit gets from the tree in Washington to their shelves and tables abroad. 

Washington was not the buyers' only destination; before turning in for the evening, the group would trek to Seattle before an early flight to California. 

An ambrosia apple at McDougall & Sons' Legacy Orchard.
“We hope that by the time they return home,” said Julie, “they have more knowledge about Washington agriculture and are eager for trade opportunities in the future.”