Exporting to China
Andre Bailey, president of Creston’s Global Fruit Ltd. in China.
Blueberries took notes from cherries when Andre Bailey, president of Creston’s Global Fruit Ltd. spoke to O&V about the ten plus years he’s been involved in exporting cherries. When he began with the company, it had just two Asian accounts, but now ships to every country in Southeast Asia.
Bailey estimates most cherry growers are shipping about 90 per cent of their crops overseas. With blueberries a hot commodity in Asian countries for health benefits, Bailey wanted to share his experiences to make the exportation of the popular berry easier for BC growers.
“For a market that’s growing, there’s no comparable to China right now,” Bailey said. “We’ve learned a lot of lessons and most of them the hard way.”
One of the biggest lessons learned has been selecting and packaging cherries that can withstand the more than one month long ocean voyage. It starts with good growing practices that produce excellent fruit. With Bailey’s estimates of 99.5 per cent of the BC cherry crop being sold as fresh, whether domestic or exported, perfection is essential.
“I think Canadian cherry growers are the best in the world,” Bailey noted. “Everything is handpicked. We’re trying to put the perfect cherry in the box every time. Especially for ocean [shipping] it’s so important for uniform cherries and absolutely no visible defect goes in the box.”
Optical graders and sorters are used to check for size, colour and defects and packing the box correctly is essential.
“You’re putting a cherry on a boat for up to 33 to 35 days,” commented Bailey. “The Chileans’, in my opinion, are the best in the world at post-harvest handling. It’s making that transition and that commitment during the packing process to put that perfect pack out that is going to satisfy that Asian consumer.”
Bailey has seen the practices of Chilean growers and packers first hand and has taken all of the cherry growers with Global Fruit Ltd. to Chile to see operations first hand. It is because Chile has had to rely on ocean shipping to get their products to market that Chilean growers have had to learn the best possible packing methods.
Other lessons Bailey shared were to take the time to understand the various Asian cultures as well as developing appropriate business relationships with partners. Asian markets will pay a premium for high quality BC-grown fruit, but Bailey stresses that the relationship must always put the grower first.
“The most important thing is how you protect the grower when stuff goes sideways,” he said. “The grower has to get paid first.”
This can be accomplished through memorandums of understanding, getting paid up front and other tools to ensure that payment is made.
“It’s easier to solve the problem when you hold the money,” Bailey noted.
Bailey feels blueberries will have positive results in Asian markets, perhaps even better than cherries, and notes it comes down to selecting the right partners