(l–r) Regis Ouattara, the Trade Hub’s Regional Partnership Officer, and Swaroop Khandagale, Managing Director of Bluestar Direct, visited with Sarata Touré, Deputy Director-General of SITA SA.
By Chaz Kyser
There is rising global demand for cashews and cashew-based products, including in the United States where at least 90,000 metric tons of this nutritious nut is imported every year. West African-based cashew processors have long recognized the potential to export this commodity to the United States, but have faced hurdles surrounding developing relationships with potential buyers, leaving them largely out of this lucrative and growing market.
To address this challenge, the Trade Hub has begun creating market linkages between cashew companies in the United States and top cashew processing companies in West Africa. Efforts have been led by the Trade Hub’s African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) team, whose focus includes helping West African-based businesses take advantage of this important U.S. government act that allows more than 6,500 products to be exported duty-free to the United States.
Early success has already been seen in two Ivorian companies—the Société Ivoirienne de Traitement de l’Anacarde (SITA SA) and Foods’ Co.—snagging their first contract with BlueStar Direct LLC, a wholesaler of nuts and dried fruits based in Warren, New Jersey. Ironically, while securing the deals with a large U.S. retailer was not without difficulties, the process started with just initiative and a simple phone call.
Esther Psarakis, the Trade Hub’s U.S.-based Senior International Market Linkages Expert, learned about BlueStar Direct in early November 2020. After conducting research on the company, including where it currently sources products from, she jumped on the chance to link the company to cashew processors in Côte d’Ivoire, a focus country for the Trade Hub and one that the AGOA team knew had strong potential to increase its U.S. exports of cashews.
Psarakis was able to get in touch with BlueStar Direct’s Managing Director, Swaroop Khandagale, who showed eagerness to learn about both the Trade Hub and its ability to link the company to West African cashew exporters. This eagerness was soon matched by action, as Khandagale agreed to visit companies in Côte d’Ivoire through meetings coordinated by the Trade Hub.
“Many U.S. companies are hesitant to do major business with West African-based companies simply because this is not a region they are familiar with and because of assumptions—often false—about their capabilities to export quality products,” Psarakis said. “Fortunately, BlueStar Direct was open and excited to learn about the vast potential there is to import cashews from West Africa, as well as other food products the company sources like dried fruit.”
During his visit in April 2021, Khandagale toured three suppliers of cashew nuts, including SITA SA, which he was most impressed by. He later had extended discussions with the management of Foods’ Co. Points of discussion with SITA SA and Foods’ Co included the companies’ current and ongoing capabilities of meeting certification requirements, quality standards, and product delivery times. Here, the AGOA team has played a key role in ensuring SITA SA and Foods’ Co were able to fulfill all expectations set, with the hope of building long-lasting business relationships with BlueStar Direct.
“The Trade Hub has helped us address key standard and certification issues, as well as to register our company with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is crucial to gaining and keeping business with U.S. companies,” said Tahirou Sanago, Founder and CEO of Foods’ Co. “With this and other technical assistance, we became primed for business opportunities with BlueStar Direct and other large U.S. companies.”
After Khandagale’ visit, ongoing discussions mediated by the Trade Hub, and receiving product samples, BlueStar Direct committed to buy initial shipments from both companies. In May, SITA SA’s shipped its first container to BlueStar Direct, valued at just over $58,000 and weighing 13.6 tons. Food Co’s first container, valued at just under $70,000 and weighing 16.44 metric tons, will leave the Port of Abidjan for the United States by the end of June.
Khandagale expects these first shipments will mark the start of a strong partnership with both SITA SA and Foods’ Co. He also looks forward to working with the Trade Hub to discover other companies in West Africa.
“BlueStar Direct prides itself on providing customers with the world’s finest nuts and we are excited to add Côte d’Ivoire to our growing list of countries we source from, as a result of the Trade Hub introducing us to SITA SA and Foods’ Co,” Khandagale said.