Vietnam hungry for Oregon potatoes

Vietnam hungry for Oregon potatoes

By Amanda Waldroupe

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At top: A Pacific Northwest potato display in Ho Chi Minh City. State ag directors Dan Newhouse of Washington (left) and Katy Coba or Oregon with a store manager.

Vietnam’s economy and demand for American exports is growing, and Oregon’s potato growers aren’t being couch potatoes. A recent trade mission to Vietnam to scout a potential market for Oregon agricultural exports found that Vietnam is going to be a very important market for Oregon agriculture, says Dalton Hobbs, assistant director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

“It has a lot of potential,” says Bill Brewer, executive director of the Oregon Potato Commission. “It’s a whole new developing market.”

A test shipment of two ocean containers carrying 80,000 pounds of fresh potatoes are expected to be sent to Hoh Chi Minh City within a month or two, according to Hobbs. Test shipments are a typical step in creating new export markets. Such shipments further test demand and technical problems related to shipping fresh products, to be smoothed out before larger, more frequent shipments begin.

In as little as a year, Oregon could start commercially shipping between 40,000 and 80,000 pounds of potatoes each month, equating to between $100,000 and $200,000 in monthly profits, Hobbs says. Brewer says shipping a couple containers a month would “be a great start” and is confident business would quickly grow. “If we could just get in there and get that much product on their shelves, it would grow big time,” he says.

Potatoes are a staple of a typical Vietnamese diet, but the only part of the country that can grow them is the highlands. Most potatoes, Brewer says, are shipped from China and are a pale, off-color brown “that we in the U.S. would not accept.”

“Our potatoes have a lot better shape, and are more consistent in size,” Brewer says. So it’s little surprise that the Vietnamese were particularly interested in Oregon’s red, purple and blue specialty potatoes, and were willing to pay a dollar per pound — twice what they would pay for locally grown potatoes.

The new market might be a shot in the arm for a commodity that has slowly increased its acreage since a sharp decline in the late 1990s.