TRAVERSE CITY — There’s a chance Michigan agricultural produce will make an appearance at the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.
That’s because representatives from two northern Michigan-based distributors and cooperatives — Graceland Fruit of Frankfort and North Bay Produce of Traverse City — met this week with wholesalers, retailers and importers in Brazil to discuss export opportunities in what they perceive as an emerging market.
North Bay Produce Sales Manager Nick Osmulski said Brazil’s rising middle class makes it an attractive export location.
“We’re seeing it in ... China, India, Brazil. They’re all in that same boat as far as having more money to spend on items than they have in the past as far as apples from us or blueberries,” he said.
The two northern Michigan companies are part of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Department international program’s trade mission that focuses on expanding markets for apples, dried fruit and other produce. Michigan Apple Committee, BelleHarvest of Belding and U.S. Department of Agriculture officials also participated in the Brazil visit.
International program manager Jamie Zmitko-Somers said the option to attend the trip was extended to all Michigan companies.
It’s wise that they form relationships now, given Brazil’s plans to host two major events in coming years, she said.
“When demand increases in a couple years due to athletes and visitors coming, we’ll already have those relationships established,” she said.
Brazil’s growing season is opposite of that in North America and puts Michigan growers in a position to export apples from October to January.
Zmitko-Somers said there’s also room for Michigan blueberries in the market. Brazil’s interest in dried fruit is “very new,” but Michigan dried cherries, blueberries and cranberries eventually could be exported year-round.
Graceland Fruit exports to more than 40 countries, and Brazil already is among them. The country’s urgency to improve infrastructure is a promising sign of continued growth, said Brent Bradley, company vice president of sales and marketing.
Graceland Fruit saw a 40 percent increase in export business in 2011, which Bradley partially attributed to the launch of a dried whole cranberry, which sells better abroad than locally.
“We are seeing continued growth in countries like Brazil where this product is being featured as a premium product,” he said.
Graceland primarily exports dried cranberries and blueberries to Brazil, and there’s potential for adding Michigan-grown dried cherries to the list.
“We’re all watching the weather and hoping for a good crop this year,” Bradley said.
North Bay Produce experienced momentum in export sales to the Middle East and Latin America prior to 2012’s crop failure. The Brazil visit is an attempt to re-open international doors.
“We kind of took a hit this past year,” Osmulski said. “People were calling us asking us for apples again and asking us to export, and we had nothing to send them at all this last crop year.”
Michigan is the nation’s third-largest apple producer behind Washington and New York. Osmulski stressed the importance of export markets and said state growers are “planting apples like crazy.” Favorable weather and growing conditions across the nation could make for a tough domestic market, he said.
Diane Smith, executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee, said Michigan has invested in advancing apple production for some time. Overall acreage has remained the same, but the state is seeing higher density orchards.
“As we see the national increase in apple production across the United States go up, we have to look at different opportunities, so export markets are very much a high priority for us,” she said.