In the agricultural stretches of Chile, Jorge Vera and Fernando Sagredo are giving dozens of local farms a new wholesale window on selling internationally through the internet.
Vera and Sagredo are export managers at Land Growers Chile, a cooperative of some 52 farmers that produce fruit and nuts and, as of a few years ago, sell their products to wholesale customers in 60 foreign markets as well as locally.
“Business is good,” Vera says.
The cooperative started out with one farm about six years ago, and has steadily grown to about $13 million in sales last year, up from $9.6 million in 2015.
Vera and Sagredo, each with family roots in farming going back generations, studied agriculture at the university level and helped to found Land Growers Chile as way to help farmers operate more efficiently and increase sales. They started out modestly with one farmer—“We had the idea, but not much money,” Sagredo says—developed their own website, and began taking orders from website visitors via e-mail.
Their website, LandGrowers.cl, is graced with large, intricate images and videos of almonds, walnuts, prunes, blueberries, rosehips and other products, in some cases with the farmers that grow them. Product sheets reveal extensive details, including how each fruit or nut is harvested, packaged and shipped; nutritional information, including levels by grams of such ingredients as fiber, carbohydrate, protein and minerals; recommended storage temperature; and the expected life of each product. The cooperative takes only bulk orders at a minimum of 20 metric tons each.
It’s also receiving extensive exposure on Alibaba.com, the business-to-business e-commerce site of China-based e-commerce giant Alibaba Group. Dozens of product listings appear on a Land Growers Chile showroom section, where customers can also view extensive information on product details, packing and shipping. When customers click to place an order, the information is forwarded as an e-mail message to Land Growers Chile.
The Alibaba site also provides additional services. Customers, for instance, can place multiple products into a single shopping cart for comparisons before clicking to order, and view information on Land Growers Chile’s Alibaba “Gold Supplier” status and Alibaba’s Trade Assurance program. Under the Gold Supplier designation, Alibaba verifies that the seller is a legally registered business whose facilities have been checked by Alibaba staff. Under the Trade Assurance program, Alibaba guarantees shipment of orders.
Land Growers Chile didn’t comment on the cost of selling on Alibaba.com. Alibaba charges membership fees to Gold Supplier sellers, providing them with an unlimited number of product listings, but doesn’t publicize its fee schedules.
In an effort to promote more international online orders in emerging markets, however, Alibaba will offer some sellers membership fees at half price—a discount that some local governments will subsidize, says Jimmy Tobyne, Alibaba’s manager of strategic partnerships and business development in the Americas.
Alibaba also provides, at no extra charge, assistance in learning how to begin selling online and fulfilling orders. For example, Tobyne says, it will advise sellers to think of how their customers would want to view products and plan product images accordingly, and it will advise sellers in mostly rural areas how to arrange shipping through logistics services. “Sellers may be located in a rain forest or other remote areas, and need help in how to handle fulfillment,” he says.
In addition to bringing Land Growers Chile incremental sales, the exposure on Alibaba has enabled the cooperative to spend less time traveling to meet foreign buyers, Vera and Sagredo say. And when they do meet with new buyers in foreign markets, the exposure on Alibaba has made it easier to introduce the cooperative as a reliable supplier, they add.
Land Growers Chile, which operates with about 100 employees, has begun sharing what it has learned in exporting with other organizations. “The government asks for our help to promote this to others,” Sagredo says. “We help new exporters.”
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