REXBURG, Idaho — Idaho grower-shippers are optimistic about export opportunities this year, even with most of Mexico once again closed.
Wilcox Fresh isn’t holding its breath waiting for all of Mexico to open back up again, said Rob Rydalch, supply coordinator.
Mexico represents a great opportunity for the company, he said, but the company has other export markets to focus on while it waits for the U.S. and Mexico to sort out their differences.
“We’re sending a load a week to Malaysia,” Rydalch said.
Spuds bound for Malaysia are shipped by truck to Washington, where they’re loaded on a barge and sent on their way, he said.
This is the second season Wilcox Fresh has shipped to the country.
Jerry Tominaga, vice president of Heyburn, Idaho-based Southwind Farms, went to Hong Kong recently on a trip organized by the Idaho Potato Commission.
This will be the first year the company, which specializes in fingerlings, exports to Hong Kong, said Robert Tominaga, Southwind’s president and Jerry’s brother.
“The phytos are in line, we got the green light, and two or three weeks after the potatoes go through their sweat, we’ll be ready for exports.”
With Australia the only other supplier of fingerlings to Asia, it should be a market with big potential, Tominaga said, and based on the success of other U.S. spuds in the region, he’s optimistic about Southwind’s Hong Kong experiment this year.
“The acceptance there is very strong for Western product.”
Aberdeen-based Pleasant Valley Potatoes Inc. used to export “a lot” of potatoes to Guatemala and other Central American countries, said Ryan Wahlen, the company’s sales manager.
And the company is open to doing it again, Wahlen said, but some things will have to change.
“We quit doing it because prices were such that there was no value in it.”
With the long transit times and other costs and headaches involved in exporting, Wahlen said the extra effort has to be compensated.
“There has to be a premium to the domestic market.”
Twin Falls-based Garnand Marketing LLC also won’t be exporting potatoes this year.
“Every time I’ve gotten into exports, I’ve learned an expensive lesson,” said Gary Garnand, the company’s owner.
Idaho Falls-based Potandon Produce also doesn’t expect exports to make up a big chunk of its 2014-15 sales, said Ralph Schwartz, vice president of marketing, sales and innovation.
“We’re not a big export company. We’ve always focused on building our reputation in the U.S. We’ve built the Green Giant brand into a real domestic powerhouse.”
That’s not to say it will always be that way, however.
“We don’t rule out the fact that international markets may come into play in the future,” Schwartz said.
Asia is a growing market for Idaho Falls-based Wada Farms Marketing Group LLC, said Chris Wada, the company’s director of marketing and exports.
Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong are good markets now, Wada said, and the company also has high hopes for boosting sales in South Korea and Vietnam.
One hurdle to overcome with some Asian markets is selling a product intended for retail grocery stores in areas where traditional wet markets are more the norm, Wada said.
Idaho is expanding its reach in Malaysia, Singapore and Central America and is taking advantage of once again having access to Macau and Hong Kong, said Frank Muir, president and CEO of the Eagle-based Idaho Potato Commission.
And the commission and the growers it represents are by no means stopping there when it comes to new growth, Muir said.
“We’re exploring other opportunities. We’ve been to the Philippines, we’re going to Brazil, and we’re looking at Vietnam and the United Arab Emirates.”
It wasn’t always so.
“Eleven years ago, we weren’t playing a big role,” Muir said. “I’m really pleased with the way shippers have engaged and expanded their programs. We continue to see exports as a growing business.”
The Idaho Potato Commission continues to work closely with the U.S. Potato Board on opening up new markets, and Muir said all he has to do is leave the U.S. to see how well the effort is going.
“Wherever I go in the world, when I say ‘Idaho,’ they say ‘potatoes.’ We have a worldwide brand.”