Event opens China links
Oregon producers display wares to visiting retailers
By MITCH LIES
PORTLAND -- Oregon farmers got a little closer to the ever-expanding Chinese market at a table-top trade show July 8 at the Food Innovation Center.
And Chinese retailers got a little closer to Oregon-grown fruits and wines.
The table-top trade show, so named because producers displayed products on tables to interested buyers, was one of three stops for a delegation of 20 Chinese retailers and importers.
The delegation participated in a similar event a day earlier in San Francisco. They were en route to the summer Fancy Food Show, July 10-12, in Washington, D.C.
Brent Fulps, vice president of sales for Supply Source, a distribution and logistics company in Clackamas, Ore., was one of 11 Northwest companies to participate in the event. Ten were from Oregon.
"(The Chinese) are asking for American food products," Fulps said when asked why he was participating. "And with their economy growing 8 or 9 percent a year, they have a lot of expendable income now in China."
Scott Ellingson, sales director of Gray and Co., a maraschino cherry producer in Forest Grove, Ore., said he participated "because we feel that China is a big growth area. We would love to get a retail maraschino cherry into the market," he said.
Vince Pluhacek of Meduri Farms in Dallas, Ore., said he participated to try and learn more about the Chinese market. The company produces and markets dried fruit.
"It definitely is a market where we feel like there is a lot of potential, because it is an untapped market for specialty dried fruit, there is such a big growing middle class and the income level is growing," Pluhacek said.
"We just want to make sure we are doing it right," he said.
China, he said, is different from other export markets, if for no other reason than its size.
"It seems like the different regions in China all have a different feel to them," he said. "So we are trying to decide if we need multiple distributors in different regions."
Pluhacek said Meduri typically likes to use a single distributor per country.
Leanne Wang, an agricultural marketing specialist for the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service in Shanghai, said Oregon has an outstanding reputation among Chinese importers and retailers for producing high quality fruit and other agricultural products.
Plus, Wang said, American products have a high reputation for food safety, which is a big concern among Chinese consumers.
"If the price is OK, I think there is a big market (for Oregon products)," Wang said.
Chris Lin, from RT-Mart, the largest retail chain in China, said packaging also is important for the Chinese market.
"We are looking for things with a shelf life of about 12 months and attractive packaging," Lin said.
The idea for the July 8 event was hatched out of a May meeting between Patrick Mayer, international trade manager for the Oregon Department of Agriculture, and Keith Schneller, director of the U.S. Agricultural Trade Office in Shanghai.
Several big buyers were on hand, Schneller said.
Mayer said the event was intended primarily as a way for buyers and sellers to get introduced.
"This kind of table-top trade show event, or what you might refer to as speed dating, is pretty effective in terms of at least trying to get people connected and make some introductions so companies can then follow up," Mayer said.