Cigi staff on first mission to Asia learn about markets, meet wheat customers

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Cigi provides market support for international customers of Canadian wheat through technical exchanges and programs at its Winnipeg location and in countries abroad through missions involving presentations, visits and technical training on-site at customer locations. Since the spring of 2016, Cigi staff have spent time meeting with customers on missions in a number of countries in Asia, the Gulf region and, most recently, Africa. In a three-part series, Cigi’s activity in these areas is highlighted, starting with the visit to Asia.

Last March several staff from Cigi visited Asian countries for the first time on an investigative mission to learn more about the markets and engage in formal introductions with customers of western Canadian wheat.

“We brought a Cigi team with members who previously hadn’t travelled to the countries we visited,” says Ashok Sarkar, Senior Advisor, Cigi Technology, who, as a long-time staff member in Cigi’s milling area, has met with customers worldwide. He travelled with the other staff to visit customers in China, Japan, Indonesia and Thailand.

“This was a chance to introduce staff to these markets, to learn about them, and for various companies in these countries to meet our staff and recognise that they will be coming back in the future from time to time,” he says.

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Lisa Nemeth, Cigi Director of International Markets, with Yoshifumi Inoue, Director of the Japan Institute of Baking in Tokyo, who gave Cigi staff a tour of the facility.

Technical staff on the mission represented the baking and milling technology areas in addition to the Cigi directors of international markets and grain quality. The staff gave presentations to customers that included discussion of Cigi activity, Canadian grain quality, variety registration, and improvements made to wheat classes. Staff also had an opportunity to tour milling and baking facilities.

Ashok says that with any investigative mission, the objective is to learn more about what is happening in each market including updates on company activities, changes within a market or company and complaints, concerns or comments about their use of Canadian wheat. “We aim to gather information so that we are aware of what is going on in these markets, which will increase our knowledge and help us to plan and provide our programs in the best way.”

Elaine Sopiwnyk, Cigi Director of Grain Quality, who travelled to Indonesia and Thailand for the first time, agrees with the importance of ensuring staff who haven’t been to certain regions of the world have the opportunity to visit key companies in those markets. “It’s important to ensure our staff develop an understanding of the different quality requirements in different countries around the world. Additionally, this mission also provided the opportunity to introduce them to key contacts in these companies. In Asia, especially China and Japan, the development of relationships is very important in building trust. Formal introductions from an established team member are important.”

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Yulia Borsuk, Technical Specialist, Cigi Baking Technology, presented on CWRS baking quality for customers in Bangkok, Thailand.

She says that on her portion of the mission she learned about trends occurring in both Indonesia and Thailand regarding flour production, consumption of wheat-based products and wheat imports. Elaine also learned that the demand for whole wheat or whole grain flours in Thailand and for gluten-free flours there and in Indonesia is minimal compared to the demand for these flours in North America.

Juan Carlos Arriola, Head of Cigi Milling Technology, says that even though it was his first time travelling to these Asian countries he already has connections in some of the markets through his training and years of experience in the milling industry. “I have colleagues who I studied with at the Swiss School of Milling in Switzerland who are now employed in mills in Asia. I was surprised to meet one of them who is currently the operations manager at Sriboga in Jakarta, Indonesia and another managing a plant in Fukuoka, Japan.”

He adds that meeting up with his two former classmates made him feel at home. “It was great to have Ashok’s endorsement of my expertise during our visits, a very nice surprise to reconnect with my former colleagues, and good to establish new contacts.”

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Cigi staff Yulia Borsuk, Juan Carlos Arriola (second and third from left), Ashok Sarkar, Elaine Sopiwnyk, and Da An (fourth, third and second from right), meet with customers at Sriboga Flour Mill in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Coming up: Part 2 – Cigi meets with wheat customers in the Gulf region