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Fine foods of NZ, US, Canada and Australia a challenge to our own

Oddly, I received an invitation to the "Word’s Finest Foods’ presscon. I use the world "oddly" because the only certain thing I know about food is that it is eaten, and further, nobody regards me a wine connoisseur just because I can distinguish white wine from red.

In any case, I listened with considerable interest to the Ambassadors of NZ (Terrence Baker), Canada (Robert Collette), Australia (Ruth Pearce) and the US Deputy Chief of Mission (Joseph Mussomeli) who jointly affirmed that their countries are four of our largest food suppliers.

The following information in print was relayed at the presscon.

RP has been Canada’s 13th largest agricultural export market since 2001; Canada supplies us with a wider variety of grains, oilseeds and vegetables; its meat industry, particularly pork, supports Philippine food manufacturers. (Imagine that! – RLO) Besides making 85 percent of the world supply of maple syrup, it produces fine chocolates, candies and chewing gum. Filipinos have acquired a taste for Canadian wines, ice wines, cheeses, maple syrup and honey.

In 2001, we bought from the US over 200 million dollars’ worth of consumer-ready food and beverage. RP is US’ 14th largest market of consumer products, and in fact, the US "considers the Philippines among its best prospects of future growth. American and local fast food chains do brisk business here and require a huge volume of consumer-ready products. Philippine food regulations and labeling requirements are extremely friendly toward American products, having been patterned after US’ FDA standards.

RP is New Zealand’s 13th largest export market, with food and beverage items accounting for 75 percent of total exports. These consist mostly of milk powders, cheese, protein products and butter. NZ’s technologically advanced horticulture industry offers among the best kiwi, apples, onions and other fruits and vegetables. Meat exports include lamb, beef and mutton. Sales in drink beverages are steadily growing.

Ambassador Pearce eloquently summed up the substance of the briefing thusly: " ‘World’s Finest Foods’ is a concrete example of the cooperative relationshp enjoyed among the countries of Australia, Canada, NZ, the Philippines and USA.

"Our four countries supply over 80 percent of RP’s agri food imports, and exports to the Philippines grew at over 15 percent in 2002. Despite the perceived threat of SARS by food and beverage exporters, it was decided to press ahead and hold the food fair (June 3 and 4 at the Inter-Con) as a vote of confidence in the Philippines. We see retail as the shining light in RP’s economy, and food and beverage the jewel in the crown. Agri food products account for over 33 percent of all Australian exports to the Philippines.

"The image of Australia being just a bulk commodity supplier is no longer true because a new wave of Australian processed food and beverage suppliers make their mark on the world stage. Today, in world-class supermarkets here, I can buy five types of our juice, ten types of our UHT milk, biscuits and corn chips, several types of yogurt or cheese, countless types of wine just to name a few."

One could literally bite into Miss Pearce’s remarks when she added: "Alternatively, I can visit a fastfood restaurant and have a burger with Australian beef, cheese and lettuce in a bun made with our what and finish the meal with soft-serve icecream also from Australia.

Miss Pearce explained why RP is important to Australian food/beverage companies: "The Filipino consumer is one of the world’s most discerning when it comes to food. He is very conscious of brands and has an adventurous approach to trying foods from other countries. Australian companies learn from Filipino colleagues and from this experience, they are further able to develop and improve their products."

At this point, it would be relevant to ask: How are RP’s food/beverage exports fairing? Everyone agrees that San Miguel products, especially beer, are selling briskly. Nevertheless, it is common knowledge that other local food products sorely lack quality control and standardization. For instance a housewife told me that the plastic package of cane sugar she bought from a highly reputable store contained tiny bugs and bits of fiber!

Further, packaging is usually unattractive and unprofessional, and not vacuum-sealed to keep the goods fresh. A great pity. Ca– dessert and baking products from Pampanga, Bulacan, Iloilo and Negros are comparable to the most delicious anywhere in the world.

Our uniquely succulent and sweet mangoes are now being grown in Mexico and exported from there to the US as Mexican fruits. Fries of our bangus (milk fish) have been unscrupulously sold by individual fishpond owners to Japan and Taiwan – which countries are now exporters of bangus!

The Philippines should draw lessons from NZ, Canada, Australia and the US, and regard the food trade fair a challenge to its own capabilities.

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