Explore event highlights from the 2023 Inbound Shellfish Buyers Mission in our detailed recap.
In September, Food Export USA–Northeast hosted a multi-day Inbound Shellfish Buyers Mission in Massachusetts. The event brought together a dynamic group of seven international buyers from the Netherlands, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Latvia, and Italy. The goals of the mission were to build connections between international buyers and Northeast U.S. shellfish suppliers, provide unique insights into New England’s shellfish farming and product handling practices, and allow the group the opportunity to taste a variety of different clams and oysters, giving them a better understanding of how place plays a role in flavor.
“The Mission was extremely successful,” said Colleen Coyne, Seafood Program Coordinator for Food Export–Northeast. “We had an incredibly engaged group of buyers in attendance, which created an atmosphere for great discussion and educational exchange. The buyers came away with a better understanding of Northeast oysters after learning about them and tasting them all week, resulting in high interest, direct sales and future purchase intent.”
Educational Sessions, Farm Tours & Handling Practices
The mission was more than just a gathering of industry professionals—it was an educational journey that began with a special welcome from Ashley Randle, Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR). Following the welcome, Bonita Oehlke, Foreign Trade Specialist at MDAR, provided an overview of the itinerary she organized. Christopher Schillaci, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Aquaculture Coordinator for the Greater Atlantic Region, presented an overview of shellfish aquaculture in the Northeast. Educational videos from Food Export’s American Eastern Oyster toolkit were also viewed. According to Coyne, the videos were a wonderful way to kick off the first day since they provided the visiting international buyers a glimpse into the region and the people behind the products they would soon be meeting.
The next few days were spent out on the road visiting shellfish dealers and farming operations in Boston, Plymouth, Duxbury and Cape Cod. “Massachusetts shellfish farmers, dealers and Wellfleet’s Shellfish Constable enthusiastically welcomed the buyers to their farms and facilities,” said Oehlke. “With strong aquaculture sector growth along the New England coast, and Massachusetts oysters alone valued at $29M, exploring this market opportunity is well timed.”
Buyers were able to see firsthand the wide variety of growing methods and gain an understanding of the hatchery to harvest process.
“Product quality is of the utmost importance, and we put a lot of emphasis on educating the buyers on the fact that our products are grown in clean, Class A waters and what that means,” noted Coyne. “Education on this particular point is key because in Europe, oyster meat is tested, but in the U.S., we test water quality, so it takes more guidance and information when introducing Northeast oysters to potential buyers.”
At the end of the Mission, buyers and suppliers met with a local freight forwarder to discuss shipping issues. The group was also able to hear from Janneke Blonk from the Dutch Fish Federation, which highlighted another learning area from the mission.
“To ensure we’re successfully communicating what both suppliers and buyers need when it comes to marketing oysters overseas, it’s clear we need to better collaborate and really speak the same language,” noted Coyne. “One great example is that in Europe, an oyster’s size is designated by weight, while here in the Northeast, it is by its length. This is something we’re going to work closely on with the Dutch Fish Federation.”
Strong Sales Results and Future Prospects
On the final day of the mission, one-on-one meetings were facilitated between buyers and suppliers from Massachusetts (MA) and Rhode Island (RI). The face-to-face interactions are an excellent opportunity to build direct relationships. Six suppliers met with buyers during the event, and the results were impressive:
Expanding Shellfish Trade to Europe
One of the key questions on everyone’s mind is whether more Northeast U.S. states will be allowed to export shellfish to Europe.
“While Massachusetts is currently the only Northeast U.S. state permitted to engage in shellfish trade with the EU, it appears Connecticut (CT) may be the next New England state added to that list in January 2024, and we hope that Maine (ME) and Rhode Island (RI) will follow soon after,” said Coyne.
About Food Export USA – Northeast
With its extensive programs and educational offerings, Food Export USA–Northeast (Food Export–Northeast) is recognized as the preeminent expert and cost-effective resource for Northeast seafood and agricultural suppliers looking to sell their products overseas. Founded in 1973, Food Export–Northeast is a non-profit organization that works collaboratively with its 10 member states’ agricultural promotion agencies from Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont, to facilitate trade between suppliers and worldwide importers and to promote the export of food, agricultural and seafood products from those states. Since its founding, the organization has helped Northeast seafood suppliers gain access to a broad range of export markets, supported overseas in-market educational and promotional programs, and offers emerging suppliers access to funds to help grow their export business. The organization is funded through the Market Access Program (MAP), administered by the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service.
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