(Nov. 18) SALINAS, Calif. — Europe and Japan could be profitable markets for shippers of organic produce, but it’s critical to understand both their consumers and the countries’ import requirements before trying to open those markets.
That was a key thread in the first of eight seminars that are part of the Certified Organic Product Export Strategy Program, or COPES, which is the result of a collaboration between Santa Cruz-based California Certified Organic Farmers and the Monterey Bay International Trade Association.
COPES held its first seminar Nov. 13 at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas. Dozens of people interested in finding the best way to export organic produce, wine and other products attended.
They heard presentations on everything from how organic products have been affected by the year-old organic certification law to importing and exporting under the threat of terrorism to what the opportunities are in Japan, the United Kingdom and Germany.
“Europe is the larger market and Japan a much smaller, but we feel a growing, one,” said Fred Klose, executive director of the California Agricultural Export Council.
Japan, with a population of 127 million people squeezed into an area just slightly larger than California, offers a lot of potential to U.S. organic exporters. Even though its economy has faltered recently, its aging population has a relatively high income and is becoming increasingly interested in healthy eating.
“Japan has a historic demand for the highest quality foods,” something that can work to the advantage of organic grower-shippers, Klose said.
On the down side, Japan’s economy remains slow, it has confusing definitions for green and organic, and it has stringent phytosanitary standards and packaging labeling much different than what U.S. producers are accustomed to.
Meanwhile, the European Union offers a single market with more than 370 million people and 10 additional states joining next year, Klose said. Europeans have high incomes, and the EU’s lagging 2003 economy is supposed to strengthen next year.
Germany and the United Kingdom are the biggest potential markets for U.S. organic produce in the EU, Klose said. But shipping to the EU brings a whole host of problems, including protectionist tariffs. After all, many of the joining EU members are agricultural countries whose products will get preferential treatment, he said.
There are three keys to selling product to the United Kingdom, said Chuck Schreiber, director of international sales for Tanimura & Antle.
U.S. organic producers who want to break into the British market must painstakingly comply with all phytosanitary, third-party certification and other regulations, first and foremost, Schreiber said.
First, they’ll have to meet EU standards, and then they’ll frequently have to meet company-specific standards because in Britain, the retailers display product in their own brands and try to differentiate themselves by touting safety practices.
It’s also critical to establish relationships with the people to whom you want to sell, Schreiber said. Go visit them. And expect them to visit you — several times a year, in fact, he said. It’s important to make customers in the United Kingdom know that you’re accessible to them whenever they want to speak to you.
COPES is funded by a $450,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Food and Agriculture.
Organic grower-shippers that participate in the initiative receive Web-based instruction on a biweekly basis through the program’s Web seminars.
They also are included in the COPES product directory, which links California shippers and foreign buyers.
In addition to these free services, members will be represented at industry trade shows and other events. COPES officials will bring foreign buyers to the U.S., and California shippers will receive the opportunity to visit markets overseas.