Produce buyers from five Russian retail chains, who came to Washington State this week to learn about the tree fruit industry, said they were impressed by the technology in orchards and packing houses, as well as by the openness of the people.
This was the first trip to the United States for the buyers, who represent four retailers in western Russia and one in the Russian Far East. They were accompanied by Ksenia Gorovaya of CrispConsulting, who represents the Washington Apple Commission and Pear Bureau Northwest in Russia.
Rebecca Lyons, export marketing manager with the Apple Commission, said such reverse trade missions are fairly rare and are usually arranged for buyers in new markets where the tree fruit industry doesn’t have many existing contacts.
Russia is an established market, but Gorovaya said what’s new is that retailers are beginning to import directly from suppliers. Traditionally, fruit has been shipped through importers and then wholesalers before reaching retailers.
“Now, they’re cutting out the middle man,” she said. However, it will be a gradual process because importers are still strong and the retail industry is not consolidated. No single retailer in Russia has more than a 5 percent market share.
Besides learning about the Washington tree fruit industry, the retailers hoped to meet potential suppliers. Lyons said that, fortuitously, Washington has a crop of large fruit this year, which matches what retailers in western Russia are looking for.
The visitors were impressed by the level of technology and effort that goes into growing Washington apples. Danelle Trovato, export assistant at the Washington Apple Commission, said they enjoyed their first orchard visit at Borton Fruit Company in Yakima, where they watched Fuji apples being harvested and rode around the orchard on four-wheelers. “They had a blast,” she said.
Goravaya said the buyers were also impressed with the packing facilities they visited, which are larger than the typical European facilities.
Vavya Glushkova, import purchasing manager for a retail company in western Russia, said seeing firsthand how the industry works would give the buyers confidence in the quality and production practices of Washington apples and Northwest pears.