If Taka Yamaguchi has his way, athletes competing in the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo will be eating organic—an ambitious plan that more than 100 of Japan's top grocery retailers, food importers and distributors learned about at a recent Organic Trade Association (OTA) sponsored seminar in Japan.
Yamaguchi, executive officer of Organic Japan, was part of a roster of agricultural, organic and food industry experts and policy officials taking part in two capacity-filled OTA programs that brought industry and government leaders together in Tokyo and Osaka to learn about the range and quality of U.S. organic products, get up to speed on a bilateral trade deal that will help feed Japan's growing appetite for organic, and sample organic treats of grilled cheese sandwiches, vegetable burritos, ginger lemonade, and more.
With a grant for $784,902 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) Market Access Program (MAP) to promote U.S. organic products abroad in 2015, OTA is gearing up a far-reaching strategy for next year that will include more organic promotional and education programs in Japan and around the globe.
OTA will be showcasing the American organic brand in the largest food shows in the world, conducting international seminars on organic regulatory issues, hosting trade missions to connect foreign buyers and domestic suppliers, helping retailers in the world's biggest markets sell the value of organic, and continuing to assist U.S. organic exporters with OTA's online U.S. Organic Export Directory and its Global Organic Trade Guide.
"Exports are increasingly important to U.S. producers and handlers. The organic industry is invested in building the relationships and U.S. organic brand awareness required for long-term export growth," said Laura Batcha, CEO and executive director of OTA. "The industry is poised to fully utilize the much-welcomed grant assistance from USDA provided through its Market Access Program."
So it's back to Japan for OTA in November of 2015, where OTA will conduct targeted promotion of organic products to consumers, and continue to build relationships with retailers and visionaries like Taka Yamaguchi. And beyond Japan, OTA will be busy:
- In Nuremburg, Germany, OTA will lead a contingent of more than a dozen U.S. organic suppliers attending the BioFach World Organic Trade Fair, the world's leading organic food trade show. OTA will showcase U.S. organic products in its large space within the USA Pavilion, and will lead a session while there on the important U.S.-EU organic equivalency arrangement.
- In Seoul, South Korea, for the first time ever, OTA will participate in the Seoul Food and Beverage show. South Korea and the U.S. signed an organic equivalency arrangement in July, and demand for organic in the prosperous Asian country has never been higher.
- In Cologne, Germany, OTA and representatives of the U.S. organic industry will have a highly visible presence at the preeminent Anuga food show, the largest food show in the world. More than 150,000 buyers from almost 200 countries attend the huge industry show, making it one of the most critical—and potentially profitable—shows for the U.S. organic industry to attend.
- In Anaheim, Calif., at Natural Products Expo West, one of the biggest trade shows in this country, OTA will bring stateside more than 20 organic food buyers from Asia and Southeast Asia, South and Central America, Europe and Canada to talk business with U.S. organic suppliers.
- In cities across Europe, OTA will be coordinating a large-scale promotion effort, with the focus on retailers to increase the awareness of the range, quality and consistency of U.S. organic products available for import.
A recent OTA survey of the U.S. organic industry shows a growing number of organic stakeholders involved in the export market—just over 60 percent of respondents surveyed last year said they export all or some of their organic products with an additional 20 percent reporting that they plan to get into the international arena. Many of today's organic exporters are new to the export business, with some 50 percent selling their products on the global stage for five years or less, and almost 20 percent just two years or less.
The inability to locate appropriate buyers is frequently cited as one of the biggest barriers to exports. Since the mid-1990s, OTA has been working to help promote organic agricultural products in international markets and to connect buyers and sellers. The first year OTA participated in USDA's Market Access Program was 1999. OTA's membership represents about 85 percent of U.S. organic exports, and the market promotion activities administered by OTA are open to the entire organic industry, not just OTA members. Demand for organic in the United States has been booming, with organic sales in 2013 hitting a new record of $35.1 billion. Demand for organic around the world has been exploding as well, and U.S. organic exports in 2013 reached a new high of $537 million, up more than 20 percent from the previous year.
"Healthy growth in organic demand is occurring in all regions, from Japan, South Korea and China, to Canada and the European Union and the Middle East," said Monique Marez, OTA's senior international trade manager. "It is our goal to help organic producers and distributors explore and connect with these developing and often untapped markets and educate consumers everywhere about the benefits of organic."