The emergence of Russia as a very competitive wheat exporting country has dramatically changed the Egyptian market opportunity for U.S. wheat farmers. Egypt still imports more wheat than any other country, but for several years Egypt’s government purchasing agency has been able to import Russian wheat and wheat from other nearby exporters at FOB costs that have been as much as $50 per metric ton cheaper than U.S. wheat on top of a freight advantage. The majority of Russian wheat is imported for use in Egypt’s subsidized baladi bread program.
USDA Foreign Agricultural Service cooperator U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) recognizes these challenges and has shifted Foreign Market Development (FMD) and Market Access Program (MAP) funding from staff and activities in Egypt to other regions and countries that offer better opportunity for U.S. wheat export sales. However, USW has identified an emerging high-value market in cookies, crackers and cakes, as well as other products like pasta, in Egypt that is served by private importers, mills and processors. While such products are affordable for many Egyptian consumers, they return higher margins to the supply chain and they require high quality flour and offer a new opportunity for U.S. wheat.
In marketing year 20115/16 (June to May), for example, Badawi Group contacted the USW office in Cairo to discuss their plans to introduce a new line of branded pasta products. Badawi is the largest tea company in Egypt and wanted to extend a respected, premium reputation into the growing pasta market.
USW Regional Technical Specialist Peter Lloyd traveled from Casablanca, Morocco, to meet with Badawi managers. While durum wheat is the premier source of semolina for pasta, flour from other wheat classes can be used effectively depending on cost and consumer preferences. After reviewing Badawi’s product concepts, Lloyd recommended the company should consider using high protein U.S. hard red spring (HRS) wheat as its primary pasta ingredient.
Next, USW Regional Director Ian Flagg and Marketing Consultant Nihal Habib reviewed how Badawi could best execute a HRS wheat purchase. Following a final discussion, Badawi imported 30,000 metric tons of HRW in 2015/16, the first significant sale of U.S. spring wheat to Egypt in many years. The purchase returned about $7.7 million to U.S. spring wheat farmers in North Dakota, Montana, South Dakota and Minnesota from a very small investment of MAP and FMD funds. This opportunity would never have materialized if that investment and USW’s ability to serve this prospect were not in place. Moreover, Badawi set a standard for premium tea in Egypt and USW believes it can set another standard for premium pasta, which holds promise for additional HRS sales.
USW is fostering similar opportunities in Egypt through technical support aimed at helping build a preference for U.S. soft red winter and soft white wheat in the emerging cookie, cracker and cake products. The effort shows that USW is making the most efficient use possible of MAP, FMD and U.S. wheat producer funding in response to changing market dynamics.