Agricultural exports are on the rise and central San Joaquin Valley food producers were urged Thursday to explore the possibilities of shipping overseas.
Already, the Valley is a worldwide supplier of many fresh and processed products, from almonds to raisins. But not every grower or processor has tapped the export market.
Federal, state and local experts gathered Thursday at Fresno City Hall to discuss how small and medium food producers can access foreign markets.
Christian Foster, deputy administrator of the Foreign Agricultural Service for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said farm and ranch exports reached a record $141 billion that supported nearly one million jobs.
"And we have a tremendous opportunity to build on that," said Foster, who spoke via Skype.
As the nation's leading agricultural region, the Valley is well poised to take advantage of export opportunities, said Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin.
The mayor was one of the driving forces behind the creation of the Fresno Food Expo, an annual food trade show that brings in domestic and foreign buyers.
Last year, the event attracted 25 buyers from Canada, Mexico and Pacific Rim countries, including China.
"We want our Valley-based food processors to be ready to export their products," she said.
During Thursday's seminar, Valley food makers learned about emerging food trends such as the demand for convenience, healthy products and even indulgent foods.
Dennis Lynch, food export counselor for the California Centers for International Trade Development, said U.S. caramel corn became a huge hit in India after it was introduced for the first time.
"Don't ever be surprised at what you see as a trade pattern," Lynch said.
Korea had never been a buyer of frozen foods, but after the country developed a better system for storing the product, imports began flooding into the market.
"They are now the second largest frozen-food market for the U.S.," Lynch said.
Steve Orlando, president of Sunnyland Mills, a Fresno-based producer of specialty grains, said his company is hoping to entice foreign buyers looking for healthy alternatives, such as fiber-rich bulgur.
Orlando's company already ships to Colombia, El Salvador, Canada and Japan, but he is looking for new opportunities. He also plans to attend the Fresno Food Expo on July 24.
"We know we are a little higher on the price side, but our bulgur has better flavor and texture and can be used in place of rice," Orlando said.
Alicia Rios, director of the Centers for International Trade Development, State Center Community College District, said her agency is available to help companies interested in exporting. The center provides training, one-on-one export assistance and brings in foreign buyers.
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