Connecting Oyster Farmers to International Buyers

To help connect the U.S. oyster industry to international buyers, Food Export–Northeast recently held its first U.S. oyster mission and invited nine (9) international buyers from Canada, China, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Ukraine, and the United Arab Emirates to participate.

As the Northeast oyster industry continues to adopt innovative technologies, develop more efficient farming practices, and grow production volume, the need to explore exporting overseas is becoming increasingly important. To help connect the oyster industry to international buyers, Food Export–Northeast recently held its first U.S. oyster mission and invited nine (9) international buyers from Canada, China, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Ukraine, and the United Arab Emirates to participate.  

“This oyster industry is a very dynamic and growing sector and helping the farmers to tell that story is extremely important,” said Bonita Oehlke, Market Development, Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources. “We hope that by sharing the distinctive taste of Northeast oysters, the unique farming methods, and the commitment to food safety and environment sustainability with international buyers, it will help build business for these suppliers for years to come.”

The goal of the three-day mission was to connect international buyers and Northeast U.S. oyster suppliers from Greater Boston, to Cape Cod, Rhode Island, and Connecticut to showcase the unique and growing Northeast U.S. oyster industry. During the multi-day event, the buyers were able to see the diversity of Northeast U.S. oyster farming practices, and taste a variety of different oysters, giving them a better understanding of how place or merroir plays a role in flavor. Below are a few highlights from the experience.

Farm Visits

The group of buyers arrived in Boston on September 29th with three full days planned to meet with oyster farmers and wholesale suppliers. Over the multi-day mission, the buyers visited seven different oyster farms, including Pangea Shellfish Company, Island Creek Oysters, Mayo Beach/Wellfeet Shellfish Company, Aquaculture Research Corporation, Cape Cod Oyster Company, Mystic Oysters, and Matunuck Oyster Farm/Bar. At the farms, buyers toured oyster beds and processing facilities, visited algae rooms, tasted oysters, and networked with farmers. Other regional growers participated in events throughout the mission. These interactions allowed the oyster farmers to share their passion and craft and begin to educate the buyers on Northeast farming practices, as well as on how taste is directly related to the specific growing environment and factors in the water to create individualized farm flavor profiles.

“Before this experience, we only heard about American oysters by name and from movies, and we didn’t really get the chance to buy them or taste them,” said Mr. Abbas M. Mohamed, Sales Manager, European Seafoods, a Dubai-based seafood wholesaler. “So, this opportunity, trying them out, and tasting gives a different window. Now we are dealing with the suppliers directly, so this is really a good chance for us to facilitate the whole operation. It’s no longer just a dream.”

Oyster Photo

Put Them to Work – Understanding Farming Practices

To get a better understanding of how oysters are farmed, buyers were invited to tour oyster beds firsthand. The visitors learned about sustainable shellfish farming practices and about how stringently the fishery is monitored in order to produce a high-quality, delicious oyster.

“Shellfish are one of the most stringently monitored foods that we consume, and it is monitored at every step of the way,” said Nancy Civetta, Shellfish Constable for the town of Wellfleet, Massachusetts. “From farm to table all of the tags are filled out with the date, the time of harvest, the permit holders’ name and number – everything that will allow us to trace back the exact time and place of harvest, and we can feel really good about that.”

Seafood Photo 1

A Chance to Network and Learn

Above all, the ability to meet one-on-one with growers and industry professionals was invaluable to the international buyer group. Networking was a key part of the trade mission and buyers had ample opportunities to ask questions and learn. Additionally, the oyster suppliers were able to take away valuable insights about market preferences from the attending buyers. For example, buyers from Asian countries expressed a preference for larger-meatier sized oysters, while buyers from the Netherlands were more interested in the small size and salty taste profiles, something unique to cold water Northeast U.S. oysters.

“Food Export has been a really key tool for us to be able to explore new markets overseas as supply in the U.S. has caught up with the incredible demand growth that we’ve seen for oysters in North America,” said Chris Sherman, President, Island Creek Oysters. “Getting buyers to actually come to our farm and see, not only the product, but the place where it’s grown and the people who grow it is an immeasurable tool.”

Seafood Photo 2

With its first inbound trade mission highlighting the oyster industry successfully completed, Food Export–Northeast plans to create similar events for 2020. Bringing buyers to see where the seafood is being farmed and harvested is a positive way to build relationships and grow international market excitement about this bourgeoning industry.

Interested in learning about exporting oysters overseas? Contact us or access our new comprehensive in-market research reports.

If you’d like to meet one-on-one with oyster buyers from across the globe, register to attend the Boston Seafood Buyers Mission in March 2020.

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.

Learn more about us and what we do for the Northeast seafood industry here.  Contact us.