Vietnam, which opened its borders to fresh U.S. blueberries in February, already is poised to be Oregon’s largest Asian customer for the fruit, according to Oregon Blueberry Commission Administrator Bryan Ostlund, who recently returned from a 10-day Vietnamese trade mission.
“Six months ago, I would have guessed that we would maybe ship 300,000 to 500,000 pounds to Vietnam this year,” Ostlund said. “I wouldn’t be surprised now if we exceed 3 million pounds.”
The trade mission, organized by the Oregon and Washington blueberry commissions, was designed to get a head start on a market that holds significant promise for U.S. blueberry shippers, Ostlund said. And it worked to perfection.
“It was a success from any way you want to look at it,” Ostlund said.
The mission, conducted earlier this month, included a promotional event attended by the U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam, Daniel Kritenbrink, that generated coverage from major Vietnamese television networks and nationally distributed newspapers.
Also, during the mission, VinMart, a Vietnamese grocery chain with 2,000 stores, increased its sales forecast of fresh U.S. blueberries three times, going from slightly less than 1 million pounds, to 1.2 million pounds, and then to 1.5 million pounds by the time the entourage departed.
“It was one of those moments that make all the work at opening these markets worthwhile,” Ostlund said. “After five years of working on this, to have all the pieces come together was just tremendous.”
He added: “I have the deepest respect for our Vietnamese partners, including the Vietnamese government. This has been a team effort.”
Oregon and Washington growers are poised to be the big beneficiaries of this year’s developments in Vietnam, Ostlund said, given that blueberry harvests in California, Florida, Georgia and other major blueberry producing states have wound down.
“That is why Oregon and Washington jumped in at this time,” Ostlund said. “We kind of shepherded this project to make sure the Oregon and Washington seasons got off to a good start, and, in hindsight, it was a wise choice.”
Next up for U.S. blueberries could be the Philippines, another market the Oregon Blueberry Commission has been pursuing for five years. The market of 105 million people probably won’t be open in time for this year’s crop, Ostlund said, but he is optimistic it will be for the 2020 harvest.
South Korea, another market the Oregon Blueberry Commission worked to open, is in its eighth shipping season, and is expected to import around 1.5 million pounds of fresh Oregon blueberries this year. No other U.S. state has access to that market.
Efforts to crack open the immense potential of the Chinese market, meanwhile, are at a standstill.