Several fresh U.S. vegetables were recently cleared for export to the Philippines, which trade experts see as a burgeoning market for Western farm goods.
The country has formally opened its market to U.S. celery, lettuce and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower, with shipments of those crops expected to hit $1 million within two years, according to USDA.
Only producers in California and Arizona can take advantage of the agreement for now, but other states can be included in the deal if they provide sufficient data on pest risks, according to the agency’s Foreign Agricultural Service.
The Philippines grows “limited quantities” of those vegetables and the U.S. will be the “only country with official access to the entire Philippine market,” the FAS said in a report. Australia also ships those vegetables to the country under a restricted agreement.
Apart from just these vegetables, the Philippines is becoming an important destination for U.S. farm goods in general.
Last year, U.S. shipments of food and beverages to that country grew 15 percent, topping $1 billion, and sales are expected to reach $1.15 billion in 2014, according to FAS.
“U.S. producers have a good reputation in the market,” said Sarah Reece, global retail marketing manager for the U.S. Potato Board.
A year ago, Philippine authorities granted market access to fresh U.S. potatoes, allowing U.S. growers to compete with farmers from China and those within the country, said Reece.
Farmers within the Philippines only grow round white potatoes, and the crop isn’t produced there year-round, she said.
“They’re interested in getting more varieties,” Reece said. “U.S. potatoes can fit in the time frame when they don’t have local potatoes available.”
People in the Philippines are already accustomed to Western foods like blueberries due to the long history of U.S. military involvement with that country, said Tom Payne, a food industry consultant for the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council.
Many U.S. citizens of Filipino heritage visit the country or spend their retirement years there, Payne said.
“Filipinos always bring gifts back,” he said. “There’s a tremendous amount of interaction between the Philippines and the Western U.S.”
Large bakeries and ice cream producers have incorporated frozen blueberries into their offerings, while smaller companies use dehydrated or semi-dehydrated fruit, Payne said.
“They’ve been quick to use blueberries in their products,” he said.
The Philippines has a wealthy upper class and a growing middle class who associate foods like blueberries with prestige, he said.
Problems with heart disease and diabetes also attract Filipinos to products with a health aura, Payne said.
“It’s a food culture,” he said. “They’re very interested in Western foods.”