MOSES LAKE, WA - Representatives of the Washington State Potato Commission were part of a recent Trade Mission to South Korea and Taiwan led by Governor Chris Gregoire. They included Executive Director Chris Voigt and Commissioners Angela Pixton and Phil Schoening.
Department Director Valoria Loveland also promoted potatoes and other commodities. Voigt says they were able to accomplish a number of objectives.
"One was to meet with governmental officials," he says. "In Korea we talked about the free trade agreement negotiations currently going on between our two countries and the opportunities for expanding exports to Korea." The group also organized some promotions.
"During a Costco promotion, we found Tim's cascade Chips, Cavendish frozen products and local fresh potatoes," says Voigt. "The locals appeared to be Atlantics, which are being used for both the chip and fresh markets. They were selling for about a buck a pound in small packages."
The group also distributed free fries at a Burger King. Voigt says the governor had a good sales pitch when meeting with customers. "She'd say, 'We'll sell you airplanes. We'll sell you wine. We'll sell you software and would you like fries with that?' So it was a lot of fun to get the Governor involved in some of that promotional work and speaking on behalf of the Washington Potato industry."
Voigt credits the Governor for proceeding with the trip despite the tensions with North Korea over its nuclear test. "It showed Korea that we are concerned about you and this is not the time for your friends to back away. I think it really went a long way in furthering our relationship with Korea."
Besides holding meetings with companies currently buying Washington chipping potatoes, the group got to tour Korean groceries. "I was surprised to find the number of employees working in the grocery stores," says Voigt. "There was an attendant every 20 feet or so. I later learned that they are not employees of the stores but of the food distributors. The distributors hire people to work in the aisle of the store to drive consumers to their products. It's an added cost to doing business in Korea."
Taiwan was a very successful trip for the group. "We did find Washington russet potatoes in 10 pound bags in the Taipei Costco," Voigt says. "A new container of potatoes was arriving from Washington the following day, containing four different varieties." It was the first time Costco was offering more than just russets.
Here the Burger King promo was a positive experience as well. "Local media picked up the story and ran it while we were there. We even saw it on a news show as we were flying back to the United States on the airplane," says Voigt.
The potato reps also had productive discussions with Taiwanese governmental officials and with Keeper International, the first food distributor to introduce frozen fries to the Taiwan market, and introduced them to the Governor.
"She went out of her way to thank them for their business," Voigt says. "The local media also picked up the story about how Washington potatoes were the first frozen product in Taiwan." Governor Gregoire used this fact in her press meetings.
"Overall the trade mission was a huge success," says Voigt. "Not only were we able to promote our product and have meanignful discussions with governmental officials in both countries, but we also had quality time with the Governor, her staff and the Department of Agriculture. The WSPC has a reputation of knowing what it's doing, of being very professional and focused, and having fun and success doing it."