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FOOD SERVICE

International seafood buyers visit N.B. exporters

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Everything about this tour proved fishy.

A group of about 50 international buyers boarded a bus in Boston last week at 6:45 a.m. bound for New Bedford to haggle with businesses representing one of the most storied industries in this city. The product up for discussion? Fish.

Organized by the Massachusetts Export Center and Food Export USA-Northeast, the annual Seafood Buyers Mission put buyers from around the world face to face with Atlantic seafood. Organizers and industry business owners say the event, now in its seventh year, boosts exports of seafood.

“We can talk about quality all we want but the proof’s in the pudding. Seeing the product and seeing how the product is produced,” said Rick Marino, vice president of sales and marketing for Northern Wind Inc., one of the stops on the tour.

Between 10 percent and 15 percent of Northern Wind’s business comes from overseas, Marino said. The sales serve as an important piece of Northern’s strategy to become a global player in the scallop industry. And the tour brings potential customers to the plant’s front door.

“We take them down and literally show them where the food is coming from,” said Nancy Lowd, senior trade adviser for the Massachusetts Export Center. “The idea is to promote relationships and do deals.”

While in New Bedford, buyers also toured American Pride, Eastern Fisheries, Marder Trawling and the Northern Pelagic Group. They sat in on a computerized scallop auction at the Whaling City Seafood Display Auction and heard remarks from officials at the Port of New Bedford. During lunch – seafood, of course – they heard from Mayor Scott Lang and Kevin Stokesbury, chairman of the department of fisheries oceanography at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

Eastern sponsored the lunch, serving up scallops processed at its New Bedford plant. The company, which has participated in the tour for at least six years, has made a deal every time, Executive Vice President Joseph Furtado said.

“It’s not whether it’s icing on the cake or not,” Furtado said. “It’s a necessity of everyday business.”

For Eastern, exports represent 27 percent of the company’s business. Furtado said the tour saves executives the time and expense of darting around the world, although executives do travel to select shows.

After the tour, Eastern’s director of marketing, Kim Moreau, said executives felt confident deals would come from the visit as they have in past years.

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