Ecuador has launched a business-to-business (B2B) online marketplace called e-Ecuador through its promotional arm for exports and investment, ProEcuador. The new tool comes in response to buyer demand for direct, transparent and quick access to suppliers via a digital platform. PBUK gets the lowdown on who’s registered, why it will benefit UK buyers, and how the platform works.
Dubbed the ‘Ecuadorean Alibaba,’ e-Ecuador.com allows international buyers to locate and connect with more than 1,000 suppliers of Ecuadorean products and fresh produce, from fish to roses.
Of that total, almost a quarter — around 250 — are fresh fruit and vegetable suppliers, including 170 banana growers, and 80 producers of exotic fruits and vegetables.
So far, just over 300 international buyers have registered, including around 33 from the UK, such as SH Pratt, which bought 10,000 boxes of bananas through the system at e-Ecuador’s European launch last week at Food Matters 2018 in London.
Access to the platform is free of charge for both international buyers and Ecuadorean suppliers. But firstly, all buyers and suppliers must be approved and validated by ProEcuador before registering.
Although e-Ecuador does not support payments, the system allows users to make orders and to chat via an instant messaging service. Shortly, an app will be launched for mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets.
In the near future, e-Ecuador will also allow shipping lines, cargo carriers and forwarding companies to register, enabling suppliers and buyers to request logistics quotations and to arrange for transportation of products.
Having only been operational for a short period of time, ProEcuador expects the numbers of both suppliers and buyers to increase.
“Ecuador is excited; we’re on the right track,” Juan Carlos Yépez, the Trade Commissioner for Ecuador at ProEcuador’s UK office, reveals to PBUK.
“ProEcuador is expecting more growers to register, and in terms of fresh fruit and veg, I think there’s a good representation of the industry already.”
As for buyer numbers, Yépez tells PBUK the 300 registered so far marks a “good start.”
“We’d love to close the year  by reaching 400 buyers. But the idea is not to have a huge number of buyers; it’s about the quality, not the quantity. We take very seriously the validation and approval step.”
Why it benefits buyers
According to ProEcuador, the platform addresses the need for faster and more transparent, digital ways to meet the needs of buyers and to accelerate trade.
“The added value is clear,” Yépez points out. “e-Ecuador gives buyers direct and transparent access to suppliers in a very quick way that has no cost."
One buyer impressed with the platform already is João Barata, Procurement Director at SH Pratt – one of Europe’s leading banana importers and ripeners.
“This tool is a fast way to find new suppliers, with the right certifications, and it's very easy to use,” Barata tells PBUK.
“One of the good features is that it allows you to filter information, for example the certifications that we need, such as Rainforest Alliance.
“Most importantly, it allows SH Pratt to have another way to identify and meet potential new suppliers.”
Indeed, Yépez says e-Ecuador was developed in response to buyer demand and the trend of going digital and trading online.
“A lot of buyers want this type of solution, this type of platform,” he says. “You don’t have to wait to go to a trade show, to get hold of someone on the phone, or to travel anywhere.
“Even if you use ProEcuador’s services to find suppliers of bananas, for example, there is a process and waiting time. We have to make a formal request to our head office, and they prepare a list of suitable and approved suppliers.
“With e-Ecuador, once buyers log in they are already there. They have direct access to look for suppliers anywhere, anytime.”
And while global buyers are welcome to use traditional or existing trading channels with Ecuador, Yépez is quick to point out that the platform is “completely secure” too.
“The system was created to protect buyers,” he explains. “Only the buyers can see and contact suppliers, not vice versa. We don’t want buyers to register and receive thousands of chats or requests from suppliers. We will not share any information either.”
Overall, Yépez believes buyers have nothing to lose, and, as such, he is confident e-Ecuador will be interesting for all types of importers and buyers in the UK.
“It really depends on the product,” he points out, “but I think the first to be most attracted will be importers and wholesalers, and maybe with the retailers it will take a bit more time.”
How it works
Available in English and Spanish, e.Ecuador.com was developed by the Ministry of International Trade and Investment in Ecuador (of which ProEcuador is a part) and start-up technology provider FromOzz.
To register, buyers must share basic details, such as their company name and address, plus a contact name, email address and phone number.
Once received, the relevant global ProEcuador office will go through a series of checks before the buyer is approved.
“These are the usual processes that we all use in the industry,” notes Yépez. “It’s a normal, very quick step. Buyers are usually approved the same day or on the following day.”
For suppliers, the process is more prudent. Before registering, they must complete ProEcuador’s ‘exporter route’.
“This is a traffic light system that many other trade agencies use,” explains Yépez. “From the moment a grower or supplier contacts ProEcuador and wants to use our services, we locate them in this exporter route.”
As such, each supplier is allocated a specialist trade representative from ProEcuador (I.E. a banana specialist or exotic fruit specialist) who visits the supplier to understand and get to know the company, their plantations and operations.
Then each supplier is classified as either red, yellow or green. Red-marked suppliers need more training or coaching, and/or help with acquiring certification/s. Those in the yellow category have all the requirements in place and are either almost ready to export or have exported only a little volume. While Greens are ready to go.
“On e-Ecuador, only Green-classified suppliers can register, or those that we call Yellow AA, who are completely ready to go,” points out Yépez.
“This is the same traffic light system we use to approve and validate any Ecuadorean supplier wishing to attend trade shows under the ProEcuador banner.”
Where it’s headed
To date, ProEcuador claims to be the first country in Latin America to create its own online B2B trading platform, although other countries are believed to be working on a similar tool
“ProEcuador is a very proactive, young institution,” Yépez says. “We wanted to give our suppliers and international buyers a way to speed up meetings and negotiations.
“Through our different events like ‘meet the buyer’ or matchmaking events, trade shows and trade missions, we identified the need for constant, quick and transparent communications between our suppliers and buyers. This is how e-Ecuador was created.
“It was not easy, the tool is not perfect, and we are constantly making improvements based on the feedback we get from users.”
One such user is SH Pratt. “We will keep testing and using the platform,” Barata notes. “Meanwhile, we will continue visiting Ecuador and other countries on a regular basis, and also attend trade shows.”
Equally, e-Ecuador is designed to support ProEcuador’s role in raising awareness of Ecuadorean suppliers and connecting them with international buyers.
“We want e-Ecuador to help us to increase the volume of imports from Ecuador, to grow our network, and to identify more buyers interested in our products.
“We will keep doing physical trade shows and trade missions, while also now giving our suppliers the chance to use this platform.
“Next year we are planning to promote e-Ecuador at all the trade shows we attend, including IFE, Natural & Organic Products Europe, and The London Produce Show and Conference.”