Friday, March 22, 2019

Stepping into the South Korea Market

Chris McGann

Washington delegation in Seoul: Amy Teo (F.C. Bloxom Co.), Debra French
(Dairy Farmers of WA), Julie Johnson (WSDA), Sean Connell (EDASC),
  Bryan Sakuma (Sakuma Brothers) and James Smith (JBR International)
If you’re a Whatcom County dairy looking for new artisan cheese customers -- or a blueberry producer, beer broker or maybe you specialize in selling hot sauce and pet food -- a huge overseas market such as South Korea could sound intriguing.

But Seoul is a long way from Ferndale.

And for all their opportunity, markets like South Korea are complex. Stepping in can be overwhelming and very intimidating.

Enter Julie Johnson, WSDA’s export development and outreach trade specialist.

Johnson and WSDA’s International Marketing Program is ready to help connect sellers with foreign buyers and help Washington companies navigate everything from busy airports to trade restrictions in some of our largest export countries.

Fried chicken and beer Seoul style. Watch
out, it's got a bite!
She can even help with little things.

What if a buyer in Seoul invites you out for a fried chicken and beer dinner? No problem, it’s a trend right now, Johnson will explain. But be careful.

“It looks like American fried chicken, but they put their own spicy spin on it,” Johnson said. “It’s got a bite!”

Last month, WSDA’s International Marketing Program completed a first-of-its-kind outbound trade mission to South Korea. It was, in a way, a pilot program.

Although WSDA organizes many trade missions, the trip last month was the first to focus on new-to-market and new-to-export companies going to learn about opportunities, import rules, and the consumer preferences of South Korea.

The program wanted to know if companies interested in entering the market would be willing to pay their own way to go on a mission. The resounding answer was, yes.

Johnson quickly identified 17 companies that were interested. Five of them, including the before-mentioned dairy, berry producer and specialty product brokers, participated in the outbound mission organized by WSDA and the Economic Development Alliance of Skagit County (EDASC). Dairy Farmers of Washington, Port of Skagit, and Economic Alliance of Snohomish County also made the trip.

A clear potential

South Korea is the sixth largest U.S. agricultural export market with exports of $6.9 billion in 2017, according the United States Department of Agriculture, Foreign Agricultural Service.
Dragon’s beard candy (Ggul-ta-rea).

“For businesses out there looking for new markets, South Korea is full of opportunities,” Johnson said. “South Korea is open to our products because we have excellent food safety and high quality products. It’s one of Washington's top five export markets.

“There’s a lot of potential there, for sure,” she said.

But to tap into it, businesses must understand the legal requirements and cultural norms to determine if it would be a good fit and build an effective strategy to entering.

“It’s really key to go to those markets so you can learn about the customs and the culture,” she said.

Expert help on the ground

“The great thing about working with WSDA to explore new markets like South Korea is we have someone on the ground ready to help,” she said. “South Korea is a big bustling place. It can be complicated.”

Washington delegation poses in front of the 40th Anniversary Monument
of King Gojong’s Enthronement in Sejongno, Jongno-gu, Seoul.
Based in Seoul, Danny Kim is one of WSDA’s four contracted overseas trade representatives.

“Danny met us at the airport, made sure we got on the right bus and got to the right hotel. It took a lot of the nervousness out. That’s a big help, especially for people who had not traveled internationally,” she said.

“We got really great feedback,” she said.

International Marketing, a good fit 

Johnson is one of four trade specialists in the International Marketing Program, but her role in the program is unique.

While other staff are assigned to specific markets and product sectors, Johnson's position is focused on “export development and outreach,” meaning she primarily works with companies that are at the beginning of their explorations into overseas markets.

Johnson has worn many hats at WSDA. She’s worked here on and off since high school.
But she’s really found her stride in the International Marketing Program.

“It’s great,” she said. “I’ve been allowed to do some international travel so that I can learn about the markets. It’s one thing to talk to somebody about a market, but when you’ve actually been there and experienced it, it’s a lot easier to really tell them what the markets are like.”

Daniel Wavrin (Ferndale Farmstead), Julie Johnson (WSDA),
 and Danny Kim (WSDA contract representative).
Downsides? Johnson is a self-proclaimed picky eater, so sampling the pickled radishes, fermented kimchi and other traditional Korean cuisine is not her favorite aspect of the work.

But that’s just a quibble.

“I love the outreach,” she said. “I love people. I get excited about companies that are interested in exporting. I feel like it’s a really good fit. I work with new-to-export companies, getting them the resources they need to become export-ready.”

For more information check out the International Marketing Program.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Sharing the science of shellfish

Chris McGann

WSDA Aquaculture Coordinator Laura Butler is working to
support shellfish aquaculture in Washington. 
Aquatic science and problem-solving took center stage at the 26th Conference for Shellfish Growers this week, hosted by Washington Sea Grant.

Scientists, growers, and state and federal agency representatives came together to share research and their experiences surrounding the perplexing lives of shellfish.

Is toxic algae bloom the culprit behind summer shellfish die off?  How can we keep oyster herpes virus out of Northwest waters? Manage ghost shrimp? Cope with ocean acidification and rising sea temperatures?

These were some of the issues panelists explored during the two-day event that took place in the tiny coastal town of Union on lower Hood Canal.

Some answers were clearer than others, and some research findings seemed to raise as many questions as they answered. But for the 167 participants, the event was an opportunity to tap into the expertise of this close-knit, esoteric community to continue seeking solutions.

Where else could you entertain a question like: “Why do some oysters just stop eating?” or “Why do baby geoducks refuse to dig themselves into the sand?”

Biologist Nick Wenzel appreciates the
the opportunity to network with other
aquaculture enthusiasts.
Value of the network

Nick Wenzel is a shellfish biologist with a keen focus on geoducks, a freakishly large clam that boasts a neck more than three feet long and bodies almost double the size of their shells.

Wenzel shared his efforts to try to find out what caused a recent batch of juvenile geoducks to simply refuse to dig in.

He told the audience he wasn’t sure if the problem had to do with something in the water or if it was something more, motivational.

He said the conference and others like it are an important resource, because geoduck farming is such a young industry.

“The best part is the networking,” he said. “The people you meet here have a wealth of information and they are willing to share it.”

WSDA supports aquaculture

In 2018, estimates of Washington state
shellfish exports exceeded $126 million. 
WSDA Aquaculture Coordinator Laura Butler wants to help support that critical network of subject matter experts. She was among the panelists, raising awareness about our agency’s relatively new role in supporting the industry through outreach, marketing and networking.

She said it makes sense for WSDA to play a supporting role as a non-regulatory agency working with this industry.

"There is no doubt that shellfish farmers are farmers," she said. "They are just working in the unique environment of the intertidal zone."

A mystery in a shell

The shellfish industry is important to the economic vitality of many small coastal communities. In 2018, estimates of Washington state shellfish exports exceeded $126 million.

But the industry is built around a highly enigmatic animal.

“Oysters are like an alien life form, they are so different than other animals,” said Washington Sea Grant Aquaculture Specialist Brent Vadopalas. "Genetically they are really bizarre. They are bizarre in almost every way."

For example, Vadopalas explains that the animal kingdom includes species that are male or female and species that are hermaphrodite.

“But the Olympia oyster, our native oyster, it will flip back and forth between male and female within a single season, the same individual,” he said. “Why would it do that? It makes no sense.”

That’s just one of the many mysteries these slippery creatures hold for Vadopalas and other shellfish researchers and growers.

Although there is so much still to learn, we can be certain that as long as clean waters rise and fall over Northwest tidelands, these farmers will be looking for ways to make sure the shellfish harvest continues for generations to come.

For more information about WSDA’s Aquaculture Coordinator activities contact: Laura Butler.