Local businesses continue eyeing potential sales in Taiwan

Posted 7/16/19

Tapping into niche markets is a key opportunity for some Wyoming industries, and many of those opportunities can be found in markets overseas, particularly those in Asia.

For local residents, it …

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Local businesses continue eyeing potential sales in Taiwan


Tapping into niche markets is a key opportunity for some Wyoming industries, and many of those opportunities can be found in markets overseas, particularly those in Asia.

For local residents, it may be hard to picture everyday life in the Big Horn Basin as holding much mystique, but the area — with its open ranges, proximity to Yellowstone and Wild West history — is considered exotic and majestic overseas. That’s especially true with younger generations in wealthy cities like Taipei, Taiwan.

Connecting Wyoming products to these hungry consumers comes with a number of challenges. But it’s not stopping some hardy local producers from grinding through the difficulties.

“It’s a slow process,” said Seaton Smith of Powell. He’s co-owns the gluten-free oats company GF Harvest, which is among the Wyoming businesses trying to make an Asian connection.

Val Murray, co-owner of Murraymere Farms on the Willwood, made her third trip to Taiwan last month as part of an ongoing effort to market Wyoming beef to Taiwanese consumers. She had a booth at Food Taipei, one of the largest food expos in the world. At her booth, Murray promoted a number of Wyoming products, with her focus being beef.

The convention showcased the products of companies across the globe producing food, equipment, technologies and packaging. It was spread across three levels of three “enormous” buildings, Murray said.

Among this dizzying array of global food production was the Wyoming booth, which included beef snacks from Cody-based Wyoming Gourmet Beef and Wind River Brewery of Pinedale. Murray said she saw a good amount of interest from the convention attendees that passed by.

The trips she’s made to Taiwan rarely leave a minute to spare, and she did a lot more than promote the booth. Murray also met with Taiwanese officials, including the director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She was joined by Ron Gullberg, business development director at the Wyoming Business Council, and John Privette, regional director for the Wyoming Small Business Development Center, who were helping to push the initiative.


Beefing up sales

Over the past year, Murray has managed to establish relationships with two high-end restaurants in Taiwan. Murraymere has obtained exclusive agreements to provide beef to the five-star Sherwood Hotel and the six-star Marriott Taipei. 

“I didn’t know six-star hotels existed before I went there and they’re serving our beef,” Murray said, “so I was very honored.”

Every aspect of the beef production — from a cow’s birth on the Willwood to its processing at Wyoming Legacy Meats in Cody to a Taipei kitchen — is tracked with blockchain technology called BeefChain. It allows buyers to confirm food integrity, and allows Wyoming producers to market their beef at those high premiums.

So far, Murraymere has sent seven shipments of their beef to the restaurants. Each shipment is 1,000 to 2,000 pounds. All of it is chilled and transported by air freight, as the restaurants won’t accept frozen meat.

“It’s not cheap,” Murray said.

Even though the beef is sold at a high premium, the small shipments and costly shipping make margins very small. In turn, the slim margins make it hard to get more Wyoming beef producers on board. If they could transport beef to Asia by the shipping container — which can each hold more than 30,000 pounds of meat — Wyoming producers could hit the volumes needed to compete with the domestic market opportunities.

Murray said the sales could get there, but the problem is processing. The nearest processors that can handle that much beef are in Colorado, but they aren’t set up for the BeefChain system. The Colorado processors handle over 6,000 head a day and accommodating a tracing process for a small Wyoming production would slow the processing line down significantly. It’s just not feasible.

As much as she wants to increase sales and ship more beef, Murray is careful to maintain a good business relationship with Taiwan buyers.

“I don’t want to over promise and under deliver,” she said.


Newcomers and new products

While the sales are small compared to the larger beef market, the prestige that comes with being associated with posh restaurants in Taipei has garnered some attention from producers in other states.

“Idaho guys like to figure out how we get our beef into that hotel,” said Chester Chu, director of Wyoming’s Taiwan trade office.

Chu came to Powell and Cody this month to talk to Big Horn Basin business representatives about how they could find their way into Taiwan markets. For example, he visited with Cody Coffee Roaster about opportunities to expand abroad. Due to its smaller size, Chu said that Taiwan facilitates small and medium-sized businesses well, making Wyoming’s smaller-scale production a good fit for the country.

As with any capitalist, consumer society, Taiwan consumers are hungry for the next new trend. The next big thing is often developed or produced outside its borders.

“We appreciate newcomers and new products,” Chu said.

Smith, of GF Harvest, said Chu’s office can provide a lot of technical assistance for those seeking international trade.

“It is a little bit of work, but you have some good people to hold your hands,” he said.

Murray has been among the most active drivers for this export initiative, but she gives a lot of credit to former Gov. Matt Mead for how far it’s all come.

“If it wasn’t for him blazing the trail, none of this would be happening,” she said.

While the challenges of going further are big, Murray said they’re surmountable. It’ll take time, but she believes Wyoming exports to Asia will grow, albeit gradually.

“There’s optimistic hope,” Murray said, “but we’re taking baby steps.”