Many people may know that a large percentage of the Yakima Valley’s apples are sent to Mexico and its cherries to Canada and China, but these reliable markets aren’t the only ones putting money into Central Washington’s economy.
As communities across the globe westernize, their diets begin to change — including the addition of staples from the Valley such as apples, cherries, pears and milk. In the past five years, emerging markets for these agricultural commodities have been found in Southeast Asia countries like Thailand, Singapore, Cambodia and Myanmar.
At the same time, Washington is seeing hop sales in U.S. markets skyrocket thanks chiefly to millennials who are willing to pay more for American-made craft brews. For many years, Germany and other countries have been solid buyers of American hops.
Those are among the factors that demonstrate how the Yakima Valley’s influence on the global agricultural market is continuing to expand as crops find new buyers abroad — and at home. But the markets also have other, less visible but equally important, impacts — especially for area farmers. Without those new markets, crops during high-yield years could go to waste or prices could fluctuate wildly, said Tim Kovis, Washington State Tree Fruit Association communications manager.
Northwest Cherry Growers international marketing director Keith Hu said when he was brought on nearly a decade ago, part of his job was to grow the Southeast Asia market.
“The whole portfolio is growing rapidly,” he said. “This year, we’re probably looking at 4,000 tons of cherries going to that region compared to when I started and we were looking at less than 1,000 tons.”
Established cherry markets such as Taiwan get about 6,000 tons each year, Korea gets about 10,000 tons and China tops the list at 20,000 tons, Hu said.
Markets in inland, second-tier Chinese cities also are expanding, which is likely a contributor to China outpacing Canada in cherry exports this year.
Advertising these crops in new areas takes a different marketing style designed to address the unique cultures of consumers.
For instance, Darigold’s Sunnyside plant, which produces cheese, whey powder, whey protein concentrate powder and nonfat dry milk, invites Asian buyers and others to the facility to conduct audits and see the operation. Those buyers often make purchases while on site, said spokeswoman Michelle Carter.
“We’re engaging with our largest customers in Asia and they have approved, or are in the process of approving, our Sunnyside plant for new milk powder products,” Carter said in an email. “We market through direct customer relationships, of which we have many across Asia.”
U.S. exports of skim milk powder to Southeast Asia have increased about 45 percent from 2013 to 2016, according to U.S. dairy industry export statistics.
But those who are buying milk products — specifically Darigold’s skim milk powder for Southeast Asian buyers — are following global trends led by consumers who want more protein in their food.
With apples, pears and cherries, however, it’s more about convincing those nontraditional consumers that the Yakima Valley offers the best fruit they can buy. For cherries, which go for $8 to $10 a pound in many Asian markets, that means being labeled a luxury product for buyers with more disposable income.
“Only certain markets have cherries as mass-market products, such as Japan, Taiwan and Australia,” Hu said. “In China and Southeast Asia, it’s a niche product, so we can only target the affluent shoppers, but the market is growing because that population is growing.”
In the apple and pear market, that often means paying extra attention to what each culture values, Powers said.
“You have to take into account culture and language,” he said. “In many parts of the world, apples are well-known, so it’s about what varieties and size they prefer.”
As a general rule, Washington’s main apple exports are Red Delicious with some Granny Smith, Golden Delicious and Gala mixed in. But in a market such as Taiwan, marketers have found the cultural taste preference is for a sweeter apple, so Fuji has taken off.
Not all new market growth is international. U.S. hops growers have seen sales in domestic markets increase, chiefly due to the craft beer industry.
Since 2011, the U.S. has experienced a 15 percent increase in the number of acres of hops harvested nationwide. And hops from the Yakima Valley make up nearly 78 percent of the nation’s production.
Craft beer consumption grew 12.8 percent in 2016, but overall beer consumption fell 0.2 percent, according to statistics by the Brewers Association.
Even so, as long as the craft brew industry keeps growing, officials anticipate the American hop market will continue to expand.