Improved Greens Packaging is Our Business Card to Europe
Fresh herbs are one of the major export crops grown in Western Georgia, and constitute the primary source of income for some 7,000 families. Prior to the Russian Embargo on Georgian agricultural products, 85 percent of the 4,500 tons of greens grown by these families annually were exported to lower-end markets in Russia.
Since the embargo, a priority for USAID's AgVANTAGE project has been to work with Georgian growers and exporters to identify and develop alternative markets for Georgia's fresh greens. A major element of the strategy is to target higher-end segments of these alternative export markets. Entry and competitiveness in these markets, however, requires the establishment of modern pack houses that have forced air cooling and storage, improved post harvest handling and packaging, and cold chain integrity.
Two of USAID's key partners in this effort are Herbia, Ltd., and Georgia Fresh Herbs, Ltd., who have each constructed modern consolidation/pack houses in the main greens growing area of Imereti. These consolidation centers were recently opened by President Mikheil Saakashvili.
President Saakashvili stated "We have found a new market for Georgian greens in Europe. Lots of greens are grown in the world, but the greens grown in the Imereti region have no competitors. Once we penetrate higher-end European markets and once the Europeans taste our Georgian greens, I doubt that we will have enough greens for other markets. Improved greens packaging is our business card to Europe."
The newly opened facilities will each have a throughput capacity of 1,400 tons per season (from November until May). The centers utilize modern packaging and the introduction of forced air cooling and post harvest handling technologies will nearly double the product's shelf life, boosting farmers profit by up to 30 percent. In addition, the two facilities will provide 130 permanent job opportunities for Tskaltubo residents.
During the consolidation centers' first year of operation, the two companies plan to export greens to Ukraine, targeting primarily supermarkets and hypermarkets. Olvita, one of Ukraine's largest distributors of greens and other food products, recently purchased 18 tons of parsley and dill from the two Georgian companies.
In addition to the Ukraine, Herbia and Georgian Fresh Herbs plan to enter the Polish market. At present, 95 percent of that market is supplied by Italy, which commands prices that are 30 percent higher than Georgia. This price difference combined with higher quality herbs and better packaging gives Georgia a very real opportunity to take a share of this and other lucrative markets.
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