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Selling Oregon agriculture on its home turf

ODA facilitates inbound trade missions this summer as foreign buyers come to Oregon

Buyers of agricultural products are coming to Oregon this summer from several key export markets including Japan, South Korea, China, Southeast Asia, India, and even the Middle East. While the Oregon Department of Agriculture often takes agricultural products overseas to the buyer, it’s just as important to bring the buyer to Oregon.

“It’s always good to get them on our home turf,” says Gary Roth, ODA’s marketing director. “Nothing sells Oregon products like Oregon itself.”

Summer is a great time to showcase Oregon agriculture to prospective buyers. The weather is usually nice, the crops are in full production, and there is much to show off. So ODA’s trade specialists will be playing the part of tour guide and take these potential customers to various farms and processors located throughout the state.

“We will be busy bringing in the buyers, especially from Asia, to look at the crops,” says ODA International Trade Manager Amanda Welker. “It’s important for them to understand what the crop looks like in the field, and to understand the production and harvest process. They want to know the farmer and the field the product comes from before it enters the market.”

Especially for international markets, there is a great deal of focus on full traceability. Oregon is known for its quality and the buyers are aware of the state’s reputation. They are willing to pay a premium price for a quality product they can trace all the way back to the farm. The inbound trade missions allow buyers to ask a lot of questions, see the process of growing the crop, be assured of its food safety, and begin building a relationship with the producer or processor that wants the business.

“Relationships are so important, especially when it comes to trade with Asia,” says Welker. “These inbound trade missions give the buyers the opportunity to have that one-on-one conversation that builds the relationship with the Oregon farmer or processor.”

Specifically, this summer’s visitors include several groups coming in from Korea, including food service buyers. Ingredients buyers will be coming from China and Hong Kong. Other groups from other markets are looking at a variety of products, including berries, tree fruit, and hazelnuts.

At the core of its mission, ODA’s Marketing Program works to bring buyer and seller together. ODA often takes representatives of Oregon companies and their products to export markets. Overseas trade missions often get the headlines and glory, but the more behind-the-scenes, quiet approach of the inbound trade missions has yielded great benefits. In recent years, ODA has stepped up efforts to bring the buyers to Oregon. It doesn’t hurt that the state’s good reputation as a destination is an attraction.

“Buyers really like coming to Oregon,” says Welker. “Where else do you get to show them sweet cherries and they get to see the scenic Columbia Gorge and Multnomah Falls? They fall in love with this place, and then when they see the quality products we have to offer, that makes it even better.”

The inbound trade mission also allows Oregon companies and growers to meet with potential buyers without having to make the investment of time and money going overseas themselves.

“The growers we go see are eager to host these buying teams,” says Welker. “They work so hard all year that I think it’s exciting for them to literally show the fruits of their labor. To be able to share that with people who have traveled thousands of miles to come meet with them, it’s a pretty rewarding experience on both sides.”

In selecting where the buyers go, ODA does try to mix it up and vary the commodities and products, but it largely depends on what products the buyers are interested in. ODA sends out announcements well in advance about who is being brought in and when. Interested growers and processors can indicate their interest in providing a tour. ODA also offers the option of hosting one-on-one meetings at the Food Innovation Center in Portland. Either way, buyer and seller are brought together.

In some cases, it makes more sense for Oregon growers and companies to travel themselves to a bordering state. Some of the trade teams coming to Oregon are also visiting Washington, Idaho, or California, while others will be in the region but may not make it to Oregon.

“Just because the buyers don’t come to Oregon doesn’t mean Oregon can’t benefit,” says ODA International Trade Manager Theresa Yoshioka. “We have inbound missions coming to Yakima, Boise, and Fresno this summer. Oregon companies can meet them there and start the conversation. By the same token, we have companies from Washington and California coming to Oregon for our inbound trade missions. In either case, it’s show up, bring product samples, meet the buyers.”

About 80 percent of Oregon agricultural products leave the state, about 40 percent go to the export market. But this summer also offers opportunities for domestic buyers to come to Oregon. A couple of events– Feast of Portland and the Bite of Oregon– will showcase Oregon food products to an audience that includes buyers from other states. In particular, Oregon fruits, beef, and potatoes will be featured at the Bite of Oregon.

For ODA’s “tour guides”, the investment in time and energy is an effort well spent.

“As a trade manager, it’s a busy time of year, but it’s also a great time for all of us to be out in the field enjoying the bounty of Oregon while building long term relationships with the buyers and groups that come to our state,” says Welker. “We start early in the morning and we don’t get back until late at night, but these relationships last a long time. That makes it worth it.”

Not surprisingly, many of the international buyers come back to Oregon for either additional business or personal pleasure. Oregon has that effect on visitors.

For more information, contact Amanda Welker at (503) 872-6600.

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