Richardson hopes to turn China on to oats

China could suddenly take off as an important export market if demand could be sparked by a consumer taste shift

It won’t take much to turn China into a booming oat markets, but Canada’s biggest oat miller says how and when it develops remains a mystery.

“I’m highly confident,” said Richardson International Chief Executive Officer Curt Vossen, whose company owns mills in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom.

“We’ve seen this before in virtually every other product.”

Canadian oats seldom appear in China, with import restrictions playing a role in that absence. However, two other issues are more fundamental: location and demand.

“The logical source of supply for China today … is Australia,” said Vossen.

And the Chinese consumer just isn’t familiar with the products made from the crop, which are staples in North America and Europe.

“It’s all about taste and availability and proximity,” said Vossen.

If China’s demand can be sparked by a consumer taste shift to products common in Canada, China could suddenly take off as an important export market.

“You’ve got to start getting more protein bars, more granola, more different breakfast choices than strictly noodles,” he said.

Vossen’s confidence comes from the sudden increases in demand that have occurred when China’s expanding middle class have learned to like something. With more than one billion citizens, a tiny increase in demand can be “massive in its implications.”

For now, the biggest challenge facing all crops trading from Canada is the limited and unreliable capacity offered by Canada’s two main railways, Vossen said.

He said his firm sometimes can’t even respond to customer demands because it doubts it can guarantee crops that it collects on the Prairies can be delivered to port on deadline.

“I can’t sell any more than I can move, and it would frankly be foolhardy for us to position ourselves selling product ahead of what we think is our reasonable expectation of capacity,” said Vossen.

“Am I sold out because I can’t buy more (from farmers?) No, but I don’t think I can reasonably move more.”

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