Our early Wednesday morning flight from Manila to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) was uneventful and we hit the ground running. After checking in at our hotel, we used a meeting room to hold discussions with a local HCMC logistics company, that is expanding their business to hopefully include fresh fruit imports. We are familiar with them from previous visits to Vietnam and this is the firm that has imported Christmas trees from Oregon, which began in 2015. These conversations will be ongoing and clearly demonstrate the extremely important requirement to establish relationships with local companies and people. It takes a long time to gain the trust and respect of local business people, but it has been shown again and again to be a crucial component of creating a successful international program.
Our second meeting of the day was with the Foreign Agriculture Service (FAS) officer at the US Consulate in HCMC. We have worked with Gerald Smith in the past and he has been and continues to be an excellent contact for us on our visits to Vietnam. For me, tying the pieces of any project together is a key element to a successful project. In this case, I can say that I have a photo of the ‘Christmas Tree Lady’ and Gerald Smith at a local HCMC shopping mall decorating the first Oregon tree to arrive in Vietnam for Christmas 2015.
After a short break for lunch (all our breaks, when we get them, are short), we headed out once again, this time for a visit to a fresh fruit importer, packer and distributor.
The perishable nature of fresh fruit or produce adds an extra complication to the export/import supply chain. This is further complicated by the hot and humid weather typical throughout SE Asia for the entire year. The often novel and creative solutions applied to this problem are a constant source of surprise and admiration to me. Thus it was an eye-opener for me to visit this successful HCMC importer.
Needless to say, the products arrive from America and elsewhere either by ocean or airfreight in refrigerated shipping containers. These are then transported to local customers, typically in the original containers from the shipping line or airline, or in smaller local refrigerated trucks. Any extra handling always creates the potential for damage if the produce is outside its protective refrigeration. It is also important to note that many, if not most, local retailers are too small to receive a full container of product at one time. However, larger, commercial cold storage facilities are relatively rare, often located in semi-remote areas (away from retail outlets) and very expensive. Our host for the afternoon has found a very clever and practical solution. He purchased several used reefer containers from a shipping line (the markings were still visible) had them patched up and the reefer units repaired and had them permanently installed at his combination retail store, packing facility, long-term storage and distribution ‘warehouse’. Amazing!
Our group split up a bit for dinner: some of our colleagues, who had not been to HCMC went to the famous Rex Hotel – made famous during the Vietnam Was days as the HQ for US military officers and journalists. Others of went to a longtime favorite BBQ shrimp place a few minutes walk from our hotel. Great food, great conversation and a great conclusion to a busy day.
Another early morning flight brought us from HCMC to Hanoi, the capitol of Vietnam. We came straight from the airport to the hotel, changed clothes in two shared hotel rooms and made it to our meeting at the US Embassy with the Senior Officers of the FAS at the US Embassy Annex. We had an excellent meeting, the main subjects of which were to familiarize our colleagues new to Vietnam with details of the country’s demographics, politics and markets, and perhaps most importantly to prepare us for Friday’s meeting with Vietnam’s PPD – Plant Protection Department – the Vietnamese equivalent of our APHIS. This is a critical step in the development of our program to bring fresh Oregon blueberries to Vietnam. The process is moving towards its final steps and with the approval of the PPD, we will take a giant step towards the opening of this rapidly expanding market for products. We’re very hopeful and cautiously optimistic.
Finally we visited an amazing fresh fruit retailer and wholesaler, who has gone from one small Hanoi store to 39 stores across Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City in just a few years. The goal is 200 stores over the next 2-3 years. They use a combination of physical retail store and e-commerce with home delivery and presently have more than 200,000 registered customers. The owners are very keen on US fresh fruit, as are their customers, and they represent a highly motivated, experienced and professional potential customer with strong interest in Oregon and Washington blueberries. Can that grand opening be getting closer?
Barry Horowitz, former-Chair of the Export Council of Oregon, has taught and written on International Supply Chain Management, Logistics, Transportation and Trade topics for more than 30 years. He is currently working with the Port of Portland and other Oregon traded sector agencies to develop international trade strategies and programs.
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