By MITCH LIES
Oregon Blueberry Commission administrator Bryan Ostlund returned from a recent Korean trade mission bearing a message: "We have work to do."
Prompting Korean consumers to switch from lower-priced frozen blueberries to fresh blueberries will take work, Ostlund said, as will ensuring Oregon carves a niche in Korea's increasingly competitive fresh blueberry market.
"It will take good old fashioned, straight-forward market development," he said.
Oregon entered South Korea's fresh blueberry market for the first time this year thanks to an arrangement with Korean officials that gave Oregon -- and no other U.S. state -- access to the lucrative market.
The arrangement carries requirements that Oregon growers trap and treat for certain insects, document activities and perform other protocol. Packers are required to segregate fruit destined for Korea and label it separately.
South Korea is close to launching similar arrangements in California and Washington, Ostlund said, putting pressure on Oregon to hold and increase its Korean market share.
"Work needs to be done now," Ostlund said.
Oregon moved nearly 500,000 pounds of fresh blueberries into the market this year, Ostlund said, a tonnage that easily could double next year.
Even at 1 million pounds, the exports represent only a fraction of Oregon's 70 million-pound annual production, but, Ostlund said: "It is enough fruit to make a difference in taking pressure off the rest of the machinery."
Oregon growers have several opportunities to promote blueberries in Korea, Ostlund said, including working directly with large-scale Korean retailers, and developing promotional programs with Chile.
Chile, which recently started harvesting its 2012 crop, is just now moving fresh fruit into South Korea, several weeks after Oregon shipments concluded for the year.
As for the first year's developments, things ran smoothly, Ostlund said.
"From a protocol and government relations standpoint, it was a near perfect year," Ostlund said. "Things moved very smoothly and we passed the protocol with flying colors."