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Keeping an eye on El Salvador and Guatemala

Are these countries interested in fortified, value-added rice?

By Dwight Roberts
President and Chief
Executive Officer
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The Central American countries of El Salvador and Guatemala, like their neighbor Mexico to the north, possess great potential to increasing rice consumption. While economic factors influence consumer purchases, both countries import virtually 100 percent of their rice from the United States.

The importance of growing these and other regional markets for U.S. rice are a priority of the US Rice Producers Asso-ciation (USRPA), knowing that Asian rice threatens to erode U.S. exports and weaken the infrastructure of the local rice industry – the customers of U.S. rice.

Together the two markets import about 175,000 tons of U.S. rough rice annually. Since the organization was founded in early 1998, USRPA has conducted a wide range of successful activities throughout Central America.

Increased Consumption Anticipated
While El Salvador’s modest per capita consumption rate of rice is 28.6 pounds and Guatemala’s is the lowest in all of Central America at 15.4 pounds, both countries are growing and expected to increase their consumption.

Production of rice in these countries is limited. Both governments are challenged by the fact that a high percentage of the population is undernourished and suffers from chronic vitamin deficiencies.

Thanks to funding awarded to the USRPA from the Emerging Markets Program of the USDA’s Foreign Agricul-tural Service, the USRPA is currently conducting market studies in both countries to determine if fortified, value-added rice was available to consumers in El Salvador and Guatemala how would it be received.

Reaction To Fortified Rice?
How will the consumer react? Are they willing to pay a slightly higher price? Would the availability of fortified rice in the marketplace enhance consumer interests to purchase rice knowing of the nutritional advantages?

Would local governments and NGO markets be receptive to buying the value-added, fortified rice for schools, hospitals, clinics and other programs where food is provided to combat nutritional deficiencies in the population? Also, what is the best fortification additive for these countries?

Apparently, Costa Rica, with per capita consumption of over 100 pounds, is the only Central American country with an enriched rice law. Research underway in both El Salvador and Guatemala should provide valuable information for the marketplace. By providing fortified rice, a value-added product would differentiate itself from other rice and be marketed to consumers as the healthiest choice to buy for improved nutrition.

A number of research surveys and contacts will be conducted in the two markets to determine the level of consumer interest for fortified rice, level of interest from retailers and the interest and ability of processors to produce fortified rice. The results of this research will be made available to the U.S. rice industry and to the importers of U.S. rice in El Salvador.

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