Young Professional Turns Around a Produce Export Business

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New Ideas and Industry Expertise Improve Vegetable Sales from Dominican Republic

It is not easy to be an exporter of any product, but exporting fresh produce carries higher inherent risks. In the Dominican Republic, the Asian Vegetable Producer Association (ASAGEN) encountered a steep learning curve when they started their business in 2013. Out of their first 19 shipments, 13 were rejected at their destination because mismanagement of the cold chain meant that their product pre-maturely ripened in the hot conditions of transport. ASAGEN also had difficulty sourcing serious and responsible clients. These challenges, unforeseen due to a lack of experience in the export sector, led ASAGEN to turn off the lights and close up shop for more than a year as they looked for a way forward.

Orlando De la Cruz representing ASAGEN at the Agroalimentaria trade fair.

Orlando De la Cruz representing ASAGEN at the Agroalimentaria
trade fair.

ASAGEN needed an infusion of energy and expertise. Enter Orlando De la Cruz, a young industrial engineer, hot pepper producer, and member of ASAGEN. De la Cruz took the reins and reached out to Exporting Quality, the USDA-funded program that is increasing productivity and sales of high-value crops for domestic and export markets. Exporting Quality was offering several kinds of technical assistance during this time, and he was not going to miss the opportunity. With program support, De la Cruz participated in two international produce trade shows, the Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit 2018 and the Dominican Republic’s own Agroalimentaria in 2019. He traveled with a program-organized trade mission, visiting with buyers in Canada and Miami. De la Cruz learned about best business practices for exporting best produce and established relationships with new international clients.

After that, De la Cruz traveled to Mexico with Exporting Quality to visit packinghouses and better understand cold chain operations. He learned about cold chain infrastructure, and with that information, helped ASAGEN remodel its receiving, washing, and packaging facilities. With these improvements, ASAGEN can maintain cold storage protocols, safeguarding their shipments and increasing the overall quality of their products.

All exporters in the Dominican Republic have experienced financial losses due to COVID-19. But a year before the pandemic, ASAGEN sold $450,000 worth of avocados, exporting an average of two 40-foot containers per week. And their Asian vegetables traveled air freight to multiple international destinations (Canada, the United States, and Europe) to clients De la Cruz met during the trade mission. ASAGEN is now better positioned to recover after the pandemic, with a clear vision and demonstrated pre-COVID successes. De la Cruz’s story—and ASAGEN’s—is an example of what can happen when a new vision—combined with new knowledge—influences important business decisions. De la Cruz took his newfound knowledge and technical expertise and put it to work on behalf of a failing export venture—and turned the lights back on. 

Exporting Quality Program in the Dominican Republic, funded by the United States Department of Agriculture ‘Food for Progress’ initiative and implemented by IESC, focuses its efforts on increasing productivity and sales for domestic and export markets of high-value fruit and vegetable global value chains: avocado, cocoa, pineapple, and greenhouse and Asian vegetables. The program also supports efforts to increase product quality, production efficiency, the value of post-harvest products, and to improve marketing and market linkages.