The hallabong and cheonhyehyang produced on Jeju Island were exported to the US for the first time. The exporter, Seogwipo Nonghyup, sent a total of 13 tons of hallabong to Los Angeles and New York on March 3 and 4 (6.5 tons in each shipment). The fruits will be sold at supermarkets frequented by Korean immigrants. Another exporter, Hamduk Nonghyup, shipped 14 tons of hallabong and 1 ton of cheonhyehyang on March 9 in containers bound for New York City. For this shipment, the exporter selected mostly the middle- and small-sized fruits that weigh 200-300g.
Cheonhyehyang was sent for the purpose of testing the response of local consumers. Hamduk Nonghyup is targeting common supermarkets rather than Korean stores. The intention is to prevent unnecessary competition for sales of Jeju Hallabong and to secure different types of consumers in the US market.
Considering the time for shipping, quarantine, and transportation to local distribution centers, it is expected that the hallabong and cheonhyehyang exported this March will reach consumers in the US from April 3-10. The vendors who tasted Jeju hallabong are said to evaluate it as outpacing the American product in terms of taste.
Negotiations Led by Korean Animal and Plant Quarantine Agency Since 2011
The export of Jeju hallabong and cheonhyehyang to the U.S. became possible after the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the US Department of Agriculture announced in late January the revision of federal regulations to allow the import of the two types of fruit. The Korean Animal and Plant Quarantine Agency made an official request to permit imports of hallabong and cheonhyehyang into the US in 2011 and had been carrying on export quarantine negotiations with its American counterpart for several years. Thanks to these efforts, hallabong and cheonhyehyang became the first―after satsuma (Onju mandarins), whose import was approved in 1995―to receive the permit for the same import conditions as those for tangerines.
The Korean Animal and Plant Quarantine Agency revised the guidelines for exports of Korean raw citrus fruits to the US in accordance with the revised US federal regulations and thereby prepared the legal procedures for export of the fruit to the US.
Per the quarantine regulations, Jeju hallabong and cheonhyehyang go through a surface disinfection process in order to prevent the propagation of satsuma cancer, which is a matter of concern for the US. The fruits are completely soaked for 1-2 minutes in the surface disinfection solution designated by the US and then dried. After that, each hallabong is coated with wax.
Kim Jin-young, the director of Hamduk Nonghyup, said, “Hallabong stays fresh for a long period of time but its skin is weak to scratches. That is why the selection, wax coating, and packaging of the fruit are done by hand.”
Price and Taste Will Determine the Success of Jeju Hallabong in the US
To appeal to American consumers, Jeju hallabong will have to satisfy two conditions―taste and price. Currently, the fruits are stored for some time after harvesting to ripen until they meet a certain ratio of sugar content and acidity (sour taste). Generally, to be supplied to the market, the fruit’s sugar content should be over 13。Brix and acidity should approach 0.8-1。Brix. However, the evaluation of the taste of hallabong largely depends on personal preferences. That is why the staff of Nonghyup feels the need to set up average standards for sugar content and acidity.
Another big concern is the price competitiveness. According to a local vender, a citrus similar to hallabong is currently selling at USD$2 per three units or USD$17 for a 3kg box. In other words, it is 20 percent cheaper than Korean hallabong.
Mr. Kim Jin-young, “Whether exports of hallabong will continue depends on the response of American consumers. We plan to visit local stores to analyze the patterns of consumer behavior and make the decision on the future direction of exports.”
Educating Farmers on Rigid Control of Agricultural Pesticides
Educating farmers on the problems of pesticide residues is an important step toward expansion of Jeju hallabong exports.
Several farms already had to drop out from the exporting enterprise due to the pesticide residue problem. When the shipping of the fruit was delayed, those farms used chemicals to prevent decomposition, just as they usually do when supplying the fruit to the domestic market.
The problem could have been avoided if the farmers had managed the fruit with a focus on the American market and used the chemicals permitted in the US. Overall, exchange of information―between Korean farms that export hallabong and American farms that export oranges―on the chemical treatment to prevent decomposition of the fruit would benefit both parties as it would help resolve the pesticide residue problem.
Korean fruits are praised in many countries for the excellent ratio of sugar content and acidity. That is why Korean residents abroad often look for the fruit produced in Korea. By March, hallabong loses a lot of acidity, so the fruits shipped at that time taste the best.
If the Korean exporters find the golden ratio of acidity and sugar content preferred by American consumers, they will be able to set up a matching export strategy.
Mr. Kim said, “We will do our best to increase exports to the US by focusing on preventing decomposition of fruit during shipment and by cultivating the fruit that meets the demands of American consumers. We believe there’s a good potential to expand the market because, for example, more and more of the Chinese in the US demonstrate a preference for Korean hallabong.”
Inquiries Hamduk Nonghyup