Before the Mexican government published a rule in mid-March that should open the door for U.S. potato imports by June, U.S. exports were limited to a 16-mile zone south of the U.S./Mexico border.
The value of annual fresh potato exports from the U.S. to Mexico could jump from $30 million to $100 million under the new agreement, said Mark Szymanski, public relations director for the Washington, D.C.-based National Potato Council.
While the Denver-based U.S. Potato Board will work with U.S. shippers on marketing plans for tapping the Mexican market, the council will focus on helping the U.S. Department of Agriculture with shipping and labeling requirements and making sure they’re implemented correctly, Szymanski said.
John Toaspern, the potato board’s vice president of international marketing, said the first likely step will be a meeting between U.S. shippers and Mexican buyers and other industry members that he likened to a “speed dating” event.
“Initially, we need to focus on creating links, and on making sure everyone’s on the same page as far as what the new regulations and requirements are,” he said.
A meeting is tentatively set for May 6 in Mexico City.
After the initial meet-and-greet, Toaspern said the board will turn to targeting Mexican retailers and consumers, with a focus on recognizing the differences between Mexican-grown white potatoes and U.S. russets, red and other varieties.
“The russet looks different, and cooks different, but it doesn’t mean it can’t be used in Mexican cuisine,” he said.
Russets and other U.S. spuds have sold well in the 16-mile border zone, Toaspern said, and he’s confident they will be attractive in other parts of Mexico.
Aside from different varieties, U.S. shippers and marketers also must deal with a difference in packaging preferences, Toaspern said.
“One aspect that may be a little tricky is they are used to buying in bulk, and we prefer to sell packed.”
Turning Mexican retailers into fans of 5- and 10-pounders could take some work, Toaspern said.
Dick Okray, president of Plover, Wis.-based Okray Family Farms, has a different packaging-related concern.
U.S. shippers have been allowed to ship 50-pound boxes into the 16-mile zone. But Okray has heard that under the new rule, boxes larger than 20 pounds may not be allowed, and he’s wondering if that also applies to the 16-mile zone.