In 2008 nearly 134,000 metric tons (MT) of U.S. rice, with a value of $75.5 million, was exported to Turkey. A surge in U.S. medium-grain rice is moving into Turkey — much of it U.S. milled and brown rice in containers, which totaled 54,000 MT, valued at $35 million, last year, an all-time high for Turkey.

The strength of U.S. rice imports is due in part to the U.S. government’s work in lifting the import ban and to Egypt’s restrictions on rice exports.

In 2006, the government of Turkey imposed an import ban on rice. Fortunately, the U.S. government raised the issue repeatedly with the Turkish government in response to action by the USA Rice Federation. USA Rice stressed that the import ban was inconsistent with Turkey’s World Trade Organization (WTO) obligations and the ban was permanently lifted in July 2006 after the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) filed a WTO case against Turkey.

Subsequently, USA Rice organized seminars that provided valuable forums for the local trade and Turkish government officials to discuss issues related to the unfair trade practices and tariff system. These seminars were co-sponsored by major trade associations.

Virtually no rice was imported from the U.S. in 2007. However, due to favorable market conditions, such as Egypt’s rice export ban, and the rapid development of modern retail chains, U.S. rice exports to Turkey grew significantly in 2008 and U.S. rice market share grew throughout the year.

The majority of U.S. rice moving into Turkey is California Calrose, but exports of medium-grain from the South are on the rise.

An increase in U.S. rice prices in 2008 did not hinder sales of U.S. rice to Turkey. USA Rice worked together with the importers, packers and retailers to ensure a stronger presence of U.S. rice on the shelves, which resulted in U.S. rice occupying the majority of the shelf space.

Fourteen retailers started to stock U.S. origin identified rice in 2008 for the first time as a result of our promotional activities and the wider availability of U.S. rice.

As an incentive to retailers, USA Rice organized two retail contests in November and December 2008. U.S. rice brands and retail store managers collaborated during the contest period with USA Rice to educate consumers about the high quality and nutrition of U.S. rice through tasting events, in-store advertisements, recipe brochures and flyers. The Ricky Rice mascot was used in all participating stores.

USA Rice Federation recognized the Elma Market of Bostanci, Istanbul, and the Cagri Market of Mahmutbey, Istanbul, as the winners of the “2008 Retail Chains of the Year” award. The competition resulted in a 300 percent increase in U.S. rice sales during the promotional period.

Reaching out to the hotel and restaurant industry in Turkey is also a priority for USA Rice, which has organized multiple events in many cities for this target group, including workshops, a cooking competition and promotional efforts such as magazine advertisements targeted to chefs and hotel managers to reinforce the quality and versatility of U.S.-grown rice.

USA Rice also exhibited at a food trade show in Antalya, a major tourist destination with more than 15 million visitors per year, in a bid to reach out to the foodservice and retail sectors in that city.

The southern region of Turkey has a high concentration of hotels and foodservice outlets and, therefore, is considered a key sales market for U.S. rice suppliers.

USA Rice works with the local U.S. rice brands, as well as select retail and foodservice companies, often partnering with them to conduct promotional activities. On average, these entities contribute 30 percent of the activity costs in which they participate.

In 2008, the local brands contributed more than $31,000 for such promotional events. This financial support helps to extend the reach of our budget and promotes loyalty to U.S. origin rice.

Rice traders in Turkey have taken part in various USA Rice events in the country and find the information they get to be invaluable. “I have attended several USA Rice seminars and demonstrations and have learned much about the different types and forms of rice grown in the U.S.,” said Turkish rice trader Tevfik Dincer. “The information obtained here far exceeds what I can get anywhere else and will go a long way toward generating future sales,” he said.

Eventually, imports of Egyptian rice will resume and U.S.-grown rice may lose some of its market share, however, USA Rice efforts to differentiate U.S.-grown rice as a high quality product may help Turkish consumers, who have become accustomed to eating U.S-grown rice and are familiar with U.S. brands on store shelves, remain loyal to U.S. origin rice.