South Louisiana seafood harvesters hear export pitch

A Lafayette seafood restaurant owner and an experienced exporter urged fishermen and other merchants Wednesday to look beyond U.S. borders for more business and fatter wallets, but warned they’d better do their homework first.

“Louisiana seafood. It has a story to tell,” Joseph Kanode, with New Orleans Cold Storage, told about 15 seafood harvesters in Abbeville.

Kanode’s company has four deep-freeze facilities in the U.S., including two in New Orleans, that prepare raw and prepared food for long voyages to distant markets.

Kanode said his company ships a lot of food, mostly poultry, to markets in Russia and Mexico. He said his company sees a growing international market for Louisiana seafood harvesters.

Frank Randol, a Lafayette restaurateur who sits on the 13-member Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, said international trade shows are a good way to break into a new market. He noted that the costs of attending the shows are partially subsidized by organizations such as the Southern U.S. Trade Association.

Randol said U.S. business people, including seafood exporters, need to become more tech savvy. Consumers in other parts of the world, especially in Asia, practically live on smart phones with apps that carry out tasks such as translating languages and, with one swipe, pulling up a restaurant menu that instantly reacts to changes in price and offerings.

“The key is to get better at what you do,” Randol said. “Cast a broad net and look for pockets of opportunity. … We make the best products in the world. We should be leading the bandwagon.”

That opportunity could come in a variety of ways, such as recognizing when the market turns in your favor by placing a value on seafood that used to be worthless, Randol said, such as freshwater carp caught near Pierre Part that the Chinese find delicious but which has few fans in the U.S.

“Ask yourself, what do I discard that has a value,” Randol said.

Kanode said the seafood industry can look to poultry for examples of different and changing tastes. In the U.S., meat for making buffalo wings used to be the cast-off part of chickens. And, he said, chicken feet had no value.

Now, Kanode said, the wings fetch higher prices than the white meat in chicken breasts, and fried chicken feet are a delicacy in China, where locals like them with beer.

Other experts Wednesday tempered export optimism with caution: There’s plenty of ways to get burned when conducting business outside the U.S., they said.

“Trust me. Foreign companies are very sophisticated,” said Delilah DeSouza, an international trade specialist in the New Orleans office of U.S. Commercial Services. The federal agency is part of the Department of Commerce.

“They can take advantage of you, and they will take advantage of you,” DeSouza said.

There also are ample opportunities to get in legal trouble; two agents with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security advised merchants to align themselves with experts when shipping goods abroad.

“There’s opportunities to lose money, there’s opportunities to go to jail,” said Kristi App, a third-generation exporter at J.W. Allen & Company, a freight forwarder based in New Orleans.

“The best advice I can give is to build relationships” with companies and foreign customers, App said.

The workshop in Abbeville on Wednesday was the second in a Gulf Coast workshop tour promoting selling Louisiana seafood abroad. They were in Lake Charles on Tuesday and will be in Thibodaux on Thursday. They’ll be in Belle Chasse on July 20 and in Chalmetter on July 31.

Among agencies and nonprofits lined up to help budding exporters are: Le Centre International de Lafayette; the New Orleans Export Assistance Center, part of the Department of Commerce; the Louisiana Small Business Development Center; and the Southern U.S. Export Assistance Center.

For information from the Louisiana District Export Council, log on at www.ldec.org.