Russians study Panhandle agribusiness

September 12, 1997


Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - After two weeks in Washington, D.C., a delegation of fruit growers and processors from Russia and other former Soviet republics left theories of market economics behind to see how agribusinesses here makes and distributes products.

Eighteen foreign executives were in the Eastern Panhandle Thursday touring orchards, food packing and processing plants and supermarkets.

Consultant Alexander Chervakov was interested in seeing how American businesses package and markets their products.

"That's the greatest problem in our country. We have a ready supply of fresh vegetables and fruit, but it is not of local origin," he said. That makes fruits and vegetables scarce and expensive in the winter and spring.

Chervakov works for Rural Consultancy Services in Ryazan, providing financial, legal and other services for Russian food processors. While many manufacturers are technically up-to-date, he said, "marketing techniques are very foreign to most of our factory management."


Organization, delivery and efficiency remain areas where processors need to catch up with the West, Chervakov explained. His clients are "very interested in setting up joint ventures, anything that can help them increase productivity."

The West Virginia International Trade Development Council hosted the local visit. President John R. Unger II said the group hopes it will create connections between local businesses and the delegation that will result in business deals.

"It boils down to personal relationships. That's where trade happens," Unger said.

David Sulaberidze of the U.S. Commerce Department, which is sponsoring the delegation's two-month tour, said delegates spent two weeks at the department "learning the American ways of doing business." Over the next six weeks they will cross the country to see how capitalism works from the farm to the supermarket shelf.

The group, including executives from Armenia, Georgia, Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Ukraine, started the day at the West Virginia Department of Agriculture Packing Line in Inwood, followed by a tour of the George S. Orr & Sons orchard and Martin's supermarket. After lunch they headed to Knouse Foods, the Summit Point and Jefferson orchards and then to Martin's supermarket in Charles Town.

"They asked a lot of technical questions about our chlorine rinse and hydrocooler," said Mike Orr, president of George S. Orr & Sons, of the visitors.

"The hydrocooler takes the field heat out of the fruit. It extends the shelf life of the fruit two or three weeks," he explained. They were also interested in the costs of cold storage for fruit.

Orr said it is expensive, but makes economic sense by keeping fruit ready for market.

"We'll probably turn this space over three times in the peach harvest and once in the apple harvest," Orr said.

The Soviet Union was infamous for long lines and shortages at shops that usually dealt in one product - meat, bread or dairy products, for example. Outside of Moscow and other major cities, Chervakov said supermarkets are still rare.

"I think it's very convenient, because you don't have to waste a lot of time shopping every day. You can shop for the whole week," he said.

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