TULSA, OKLAHOMA, U.S. — U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) recently said that it is building a preference for U.S. wheat in the Middle East and North and East Africa by helping millers and bakers find innovative ways to build their business. That is the best strategy in these large but challenging markets, USW Regional Vice-President Dick Prior said in a presentation to the USW board of directors July 18 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, U.S.

“This region on average represents nearly 35% of world wheat imports and the competition is strong,” Prior said. “However, we have worked hard to demonstrate that there is a profitable market for better quality wheat foods using U.S. wheat. While price is still the primary thing many buyers consider, quality carries more weight in the decision, with growing interest in higher protein supplies, and that will help increase U.S. wheat demand in the region.”

Prior directs the market development efforts of 10 USW employees based in Cairo, Egypt and Casablanca, Morocco. Working in this region can be difficult, Prior said. His team finds ways to work around obstacles by building productive working relationships with regional buyers.

“We focus on innovation in service, training and marketing that has created a very good image of quality, reliability and trust with buyers, millers and wheat food manufacturers,” Prior said. “From wheat buying seminars to baking workshops, our goal is to help customers confidently get the best value possible from U.S. wheat supplies.”

The developing countries in this region reflect the dramatic economic changes taking place around the world. Incomes are rising at a somewhat slower pace than in many developing countries, but the economic lift is creating new market segments for higher quality wheat foods. Prior described a marketing concept that builds on the hard-won image of U.S. wheat and the increasing demand for flours blended with higher quality wheat.

“For several years, we worked with selected millers and bakers who made a commitment to using fixed amounts of U.S. wheat and met standards for quality that we established,” Prior said. “In turn, those organizations earned the right to display an ‘American Quality Wheat’ seal on their products.” USW ended that program in 2009 as economic challenges diminished the number of program cooperators. With quality demand increasing, however, USW is trying to re-establish the American Quality Wheat program as a value-added business partnership program.

“We negotiated an agreement with selected customers in Egypt, Yemen, Uganda and the United Arab Emirates who meet our standards,” Prior explained. “We provide promotional support for flour and wheat products produced with U.S. wheat and the partners brand their products with the seal and can participate in an online website that expands our service. We will also demonstrate the superior results these partners get with U.S. wheat to other millers and bakers in the region.”

Prior also showed that the return on investment in export market development in the region back to the public-private partnership between wheat growers and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service is strong. He showed that on average, the cost of operating in the region averages about 1.5¢ per bushel sold.

A Washington state native, Prior has lived and worked in the Middle East, East and North Africa for nearly 35 years, and has worked for U.S. wheat farmers with USW for 22 years.