Agriculturally Speaking...MDARD Energized by China Trade Mission, Looks to Future

By Jessy Sielski, Deputy Public Information Officer, Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development

Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Director Jamie Clover Adams recently returned from a two-week trade mission to China, along with seven Michigan food growers and producers. Despite the rigorous travel schedule and ambitious itinerary in Shanghai and Shenzhen, Clover Adams and the other participants returned with a great deal of enthusiasm and optimism for the future of the effort and the potential for market expansion and more Michigan jobs.

“The feedback we’ve gotten from the participants was really positive,” said Clover Adams. “I think we were all pleasantly surprised by the engagement and energy from our partners and potential buyers in China. We had a set amount of time for buyers meetings in Shanghai and Shenzhen, and they went way over—not only because great conversations were running long, but also because the number of buyers exceeded our expectations.”

The reason for focusing efforts on Southern China is fairly obvious. An exploding middle class and a high demand for unique, safe, and high quality food products puts Michigan in a great position to help fill that demand, as well as maximize production potential or even grow the businesses and add new jobs.

During a phone interview with BrownfieldAgNews.com conducted while she was in China, Clover Adams talked about why Michigan food and agriculture products are in demand. “Chinese consumers are looking for something rare and different,” she said. “Our varieties are a little different, and those good flavors that we have [are] what we have to offer in this market. And dried fruit is a real up-and-coming item here in China.” 

Later she mentioned the growing demand for new wines and craft brews. “Like American consumers, they like to experience new and unique products,” she said. “And I don’t think anybody would argue with the statement that Michigan is one of the leaders in craft brews and several types of wines.”

In addition to face-to-face meetings with potential buyers, participants also had the opportunity to tour many retail stores, which helped put into perspective the potential consumer market. “I can tell you that there are 20 million people living in Shenzhen, but until you actually see it, you really can’t understand the enormity of the market,” said Clover Adams. “It’s hard to understand it until you see all the shoppers packed into the stores and all the people dining in the restaurants. To me, that alone is incredibly valuable.” 

One of the unanticipated benefits of the mission was the mentoring that began to take place among participants. “It was really great to see some of the people who have experience in exporting taking others under their wing, answering questions, offering advice, and sharing personal experiences. You really can’t just get that kind of guidance in many other places.” 

As Clover Adams and her staff reflect on their most recent trip and continue to shape the future of the program, they know what they need to do. “We’re going to continue to get Michigan companies ‘export ready,’ and do what we can to ensure that we’re doing everything in our power to facilitate growth and job opportunities for Michigan’s food and agriculture companies,” said Clover Adams. “We would like to lead another trip next year, because I really think there are some emerging opportunities for other Michigan companies. Michigan wineries, if they have the capacity, have something unique to offer the Chinese consumer. So, I’d like to see more of them. I also think there is a real opportunity for snack food companies there too.”

Among the most recent participants were Cherry Marketing Institute, Dewitt (tart cherries); Cherry Central Cooperative, Traverse City (fruit juices, frozen fruits, dried fruits: cherries, apples, pomegranates, currants, blueberries, cranberries); Graceland Fruit, Inc., Frankfort (dried fruits: apples, cranberries, blueberries, cherries, carrots, orange peels); Michigan Blueberry Growers/Naturipe, Grand Junction (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries); Old World Style Almonds, Beverly Hills (cinnamon roasted almonds, pecans, cashews); Nirvana Tea, Southfield (artisan tea); Shoreline Fruit, Traverse City (fruit juices & dried fruits: cherries, blueberries, cranberries); and Atwater Brewery, Detroit (microbrews).

As mentioned in a previous Agriculturally Speaking article about the China trade mission, MDARD offers a number of ways Michigan food and agriculture companies can test the export waters before committing. MDARD offers international trade seminars, and there are periodic buyers missions held in Michigan, which gives business owners the opportunity to meet with potential buyers from other countries. 

For more information about agricultural exports, please visit Michigan.gov/AgExport.