Representatives of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDACS) thinking about doubling the state’ fresh produce exports to Europe as they head to The London Produce Show and Conference
North Carolina is no stranger to the European market. In fact, its state department of agriculture set up a European office back in the 1980s. In an effort to streamline its support operations, it now works with local partners based in cities throughout the UK and Europe.
“Several of our companies work with local importers to receive and distribute North Carolina products in the UK and throughout Europe,” says Nick Augostini, the department’s assistant director of horticulture and seafood. “We plan on continuing this type of partnership to showcase the variety and quality of North Carolina produce available to European consumers.”
The group heading to London will be highlighting North Carolina sweet potatoes. “Our vendors will have both conventional and organic sweet potatoes available,” Augostini explains. “North Carolina grows over half of the sweet potatoes produced in the United States. We are one of the few places in the world that can store sweet potatoes year-round, plus we have the ability to cure sweet potatoes.” They are also notable as being a great source of beta-carotene, vitamin A, vitamin C, complex carbohydrates, antioxidants. “We’re also working closely with our university system,” he adds, “to develop new, better-yielding varieties of sweet potatoes to meet growing global demand.”
Augostini will be manning the NCDACS booth along with Stan Smith, director & CEO,Scott Farms International; Simons Hobbs, head of global sales, Scott Farms International; Joey Hocutt, vice-president, Triple J Produce; and Kristi Hocutt, sales manager, Triple J Produce.
Buyers in the UK and throughout the European, African and Middle East markets are eager to see what North Carolina has to offer. As Augostini points out, the state has some of the finest growing conditions in the world. The combination of soil types and climates makes it possible to grow more than 150 commodities.
“While we are showcasing sweet potatoes at The London Produce Show, North Carolina also has a great selection of other fruits and vegetables,” he notes. “Many of these, including Muscadine grapes and Sprite melons, are completely new to international markets.”
Augostini says that he and his colleagues have seen what he terms a “rapid expansion” of sweet potatoes in European markets, and believe their state is positioned to help fill that demand. “But there are new products that European markets have never seen before that we think could be successful.”
He points to Muscadine grapes, which have been extremely popular in Asian markets, as an example. “Muscadine grapes would be a great fit for Chinese supermarkets and specialty stores in the UK. The grapes grow naturally in North Carolina and are very large, round, and have a dark purple skin. They are also full of nutritional value, being both high in resveratrol and antioxidants.”
Experience counts, and show attendees will be glad to know that North Carolina has been exporting sweet potatoes in earnest for more than 20 years. “We have had a long time to figure out what works and what doesn’t with produce exports,” Augostini says. “We have streamlined the process of harvesting, packing, shipping and distributing product to the UK and other European markets, and we’re ready to expand that with other products available in our state.