Asian customers are making it clear that wheat quality and consistency remain vital following changes to the Canadian marketing system, and they are already raising red flags about recent shipments.
Dave Hatcher, program manager for Asian products and wheat enzymes with the Canadian Grain Commission, told the first annual meeting of Alberta Wheat Commission that representatives of the CGC, Canadian International Grains Institute (Cigi) and other industry organizations travelled to Japan, Korea and China, Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam, the United Kingdom, Italy and Germany last fall.
“One thing that did come through constantly from our customers was that they had liked dealing with the single desk and they were now concerned about the quality they would receive with this new changing system,” he said. “They definitely did not want a repeat of the Australian Wheat Board model that they had experienced.”
Following the deregulation of the AWB in 2008, many customers reportedly complained about a decline in Australian wheat quality.
Hatcher said there have already been concerns.
“One thing that came in loud and clear, both this year and last year, was that customers were not happy with the weaker dough strength in CWRS. They wanted to know about how this would be resolved.
“This puts a blemish on Canada. We’ve got to be aware of the quality,” Hatcher said.
“It’s not any one thing that has reduced the quality. We’ve had some different environmental conditions and a shift in the dominant varieties.”
He said growers are making variety choices based on agronomics rather than quality. The top three varieties in Western Canada are Unity, Harvest and Lillian, which are prone to problems that result in weaker dough strength.
Hatcher said customers have told him there are other suppliers in the world who will sell them quality wheat at a better price. To keep customers it is crucial to answer their questions and convince them that buying Canadian is the best choice.
“As a group, we the (grain) commission and you as the Alberta Wheat Commission need to work together to address this because we’re all interested in the benefits to the Canadian farmer,” he said.
Customers had concerns about grain safety and genetically modified wheat.
“Grain safety is first and foremost on every buyer’s shopping list,” he said.
Hatcher said some customers did not fully understand the Canadian grading system, and wanted to know the influence of the American grading system on the Canadian grading system.
Some customers also had the perception the Canadian Wheat Board was a one-stop shop, and had no idea quality complaints actually came through the grain commission.
“It behooved us to make sure they understand that,” said Hatcher.
He said customers are extremely interested in variety-specific data, since their research and development departments are focused on creating specific products.
Some international customers had an appreciation of the Canadian grading system and detailed quality evaluation and appreciated that the Canadians make their products such as noodles, steam buns and pasta for evaluation.
Hatcher said the missions also told customers about other classes of Canadian wheat.
“Most customers, because of the previous marketing strategy, are not aware of all the different classes of wheat and what they are capable of being used for,” he said. They wanted to know about the new varieties, and how they could be used in their products.
One large company in South Korea is very interested in CPS red.
“We have not traditionally even been in South Korea. We have a product that interests them greatly. We don’t want to lose this market opportunity and must take steps to capitalize on it,” he said.
CPS red has lower protein, but makes the type of noodle desired by many customers, said Hatcher.