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NY products featured in China trade show

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LOWVILLE — An unexpected trip last month to China for Michele E. Ledoux, executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Lewis County, could bring Lewis County maple syrup to tables in China, and possibly all over the world.

“It was just like I was in a whirlwind,” Mrs. Ledoux said of the week and a half leading up to the 10-day trip.

It was a Friday morning when she met with Jim Manning, export development project manager for the Oneida County Extension.

He’d been hard at work on Safe Source Trading LLC as part of the Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s “Taste NY” initiative, to bring products from around the state to China for two trade shows, where the items would be seen by thousands of potential importers from around the world.

Mr. Manning was interested in showcasing samples of maple syrup and maple cream at the trade shows in Shanghai and Shangdu.

By Monday morning, 150 samples of maple syrup in 100-milliliter bottles and three tubs of maple cream were being readied for shipment.

They were to arrive in China ahead of Mr. Manning and Safe Source representatives for the trade show.

Mrs. Ledoux hadn’t been asked to accompany the men on the trip yet.

Her only worry at the time was, she said, “I really hope these samples get to where they need to be.”

To go along with the shipment, a vast amount of paperwork had to be completed.

That’s where the Safe Source expertise came in.

“We really got a crash course in exports,” Mrs. Ledoux said.

Maple producers whose products were being sent had to be registered by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which luckily had already been in the works, Mrs. Ledoux said.

Each producer also was required to receive a certificate of free sale, a process that was handled by the Lewis County Chamber of Commerce, with guidance from other chambers of commerce.

“It proves that each producer is a real business,” Mrs. Ledoux said.

Importers, as well as potential customers, are very interested in knowing where their products come from.

According to the Safe Source website, “with hundreds of food safety scandals a year, Chinese consumers place a premium on food products they deem safe and healthy.”

Mrs. Ledoux then was asked to attend a trip to China, which at first she couldn’t believe she was saying “yes” to.

She applied and received her travel visa quickly, arranged obligations with her family, farm and work, received the blessing of Cornell Cooperative Extension and before she knew it, was sitting on a plane.

“It went like clockwork,” she said.

She said she was especially thankful to see her maple products had arrived, along with various other products from around the state to offer at their booth.

Samples of cheese from the Hudson Valley and Central New York, chocolate-covered fruit from Plattsburgh, wine from the Finger Lakes region, honey from Central New York, distillery products from the Catskills and Brooklyn, along with the maple products, were provided to attendees at the trade shows. Literature about the products was provided in both English and Chinese. Mercer’s wine ice cream packaging also was on display, promoting the product as it already is available for purchase in China.

Two Safe Source representatives, one a translator, accompanied Mrs. Ledoux and Mr. Manning on the trip.

Once there, they were joined by a Western New York native in the wine industry who spoke fluent Chinese.

Mrs. Ledoux said that while some of those sampling the maple products had heard of syrup, fewer had tasted it. A very small number of samplers had heard of maple cream.

Mrs. Ledoux said response to all of the products was overwhelmingly positive.

“They seem to like candy and sweets,” she said, based on their reactions, as well as research the group did by visiting markets while in China.

The information they gathered is being used to develop the next steps in marketing the products in China and possibly other countries.

“Potential buyers in China are likely to buy in bulk,” Mr. Manning said.

Possible purchasers would be stores, restaurants and hotels.

“It’s a high-end market. These are specialty products,” he said.

The next step in the process, Mr. Manning said, is to see whether the price the products can fetch is feasible for producers on the scale they can produce.

The New Yorkers are also considering how to brand the products.

“There’s a lot of familiar brands there, “ Mr. Manning said.

They are researching whether individual producers should market as their own brand, or aggregate under one brand for greater recognition.

Another product in demand in the Chinese market is powdered milk.

“They are actively looking for a supplier of a quality, safe product,” Mr. Manning said.

A facility in Batavia is expected to be operating by next summer that could provide powdered milk for export.

Some other New York products, they discovered, “just don’t make sense in that market,” Mr. Manning said.

Beef products cannot be exported because of trade issues, though other meat products can be sold.

The group still is working out the details for other perishable products, as some would not be feasible to export because of the cost of air freight.

Some items such as maple and honey are suited to shipment by sea, lowering the cost.

Mr. Manning said Safe Source has indicated it expects some sales of maple products and honey to come in the next few months.

E-commerce and online sales also were a hot topic at the trade shows and may offer an avenue for New York product sales.

“There’s a large emerging middle class,” Mr. Manning said. As customers, “they are looking for specialty products,” he said.

Information about selling maple products will be available for local producers at the Lewis County Maple School scheduled for Jan. 18. Call Michele E. Ledoux at 376-5270.

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