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A Cal Giant step into China

Posted: Thursday, Jul 17th, 2008

Anthony Gallino, vice president of sales for California Giant, talks about shipping fresh strawberries to China for the Olympics.

The news that Olympic athletes will snack on Watsonville strawberries was a thrill to a pair of local growers supplying the berries.

But it’s what happens in the days and weeks after the Olympic Games in Beijing that could create an even larger impact for California agriculture.

“Hopefully it opens up doors for us for a new market that no one’s been able to touch,” said Anthony Gallino, vice president of sales for California Giant Berry Farms, one of the participating suppliers.

Watsonville-based California Giant and Driscoll’s were both selected to ship fresh strawberries to China for the upcoming Beijing Olympic Games.

The two Watsonville berry shippers are in uncharted territory, to the extent that they don’t even know how many berries they will be shipping.

“China has never taken any produce from the U.S., so it’s basically a work in progress,” Gallino said.

“There’s a whole checklist that we’re going to have to go through to make it happen. We’re not even sure what kind of volume it’s going to be. It could be three or four pallets, it could be three or four loads,” he said.

On Wednesday, Mark Murai, president of the California Strawberry Commission, was finalizing details of the trade agreement.

Discussions between Murai and China’s trade negotiators began in 2007 when Chinese Olympic athletes requested strawberries as one of their top three choices of fruit to eat during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Like the work put in behind the scenes by athletes training for their events, negotiators painstakingly labored away, out of the public eye, to hammer out an agreement with China. This world superpower only received permanent normal trade relations status with the United States from the U.S. Congress in 2000. A few U.S. crops, such as Washington apples, have reached the massive Chinese market, but for strawberries, it’s taken this year’s Olympic Games — and persistent trade talks in advance of the games — to break down barriers.

“It’s an awesome opportunity for both companies to get into mainland China,” Gallino said. “We’re both going to Hong Kong, Taiwan and the Pacific Rim, but no one’s ever been able to go into China.”

The strawberry commission is working out details so that berries will flow from California to China during the months of August and September, after the Olympics are over.

“I think the reason this opportunity came along is because the strawberry commission has been working on the industry’s behalf to break the trade barrier,” said California Giant’s director of marketing, Cindy Jewell.

“In negotiations for trying to open the door to China, this little window opened up for us,” she said.

Once the trade agreement was formalized, the California Strawberry Commission offered a first-come, first-served opportunity for strawberry shippers to supply berries to China. California Giant Berry Farms and Driscoll’s stepped up.

California Giant found the agreement a natural fit. The company sponsors the California Giant Cycling Team, which competes throughout the country and internationally on a year-round basis. Dirk Copeland, a member of the team, competed in both the 1992 and 1996 Olympics.

“It fits our whole marketing,” Gallino said. “We sponsor a cycling team; we have our two-time Olympian on our team. It’s a good fit — healthy diet, healthy lifestyle.”


*Photos by Tarmo Hannula*

(Published in 7/17/08 edition)

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