New York food reps pleased with Cuba visit

Kelli O'Brien

A number of Finger Lakes residents were among a delegation of New York food industry representatives to offer upstate agricultural products to Cuban buyers at a dinner last week at the Palco Hotel in Havana.

Susan Spence of the New York Wine and Grape Foundation said she thinks New York wineries could do well in the resort industry.

“I was happy to represent New York wineries, and the (Cuban) people were warm and open,” she said. “I think we could do well in the market of resort areas; a lot of tourists including Canadians love our wine. Our flavor goes well in a warm climate, and with a variety of different foods.”

Spence said the wines Cubans sampled included Meritage, Riesling and ice wine.

“They liked them all, but they really liked the ice wine,” she said.

Also on the trip were representatives of the New York Apple Association in Fishers, Constellation Wines in Canandaigua, Lamoreaux Landing Wine Sellers in Seneca County, Ag Bio Tech in Livonia, Seneca Foods in Marion and Red Jacket Orchards in Geneva.

The dinner, prepared by Chef A.J Jayapal of Albany County, included cheese, beef, champagne, vegetables and onion soup. Guests also got gift bags filled with apples, fruit juices, pancake mix, marinades and maple products.

Since October 2000, other states have exported many of these products to Cuba. New York currently sends no food products to Cuba.

“Cuba relies heavily on U.S. imports and has expressed a keen interest in New York food and agriculture products,” said Patrick Hooker, commissioner of the state Department of Agriculture and Markets.

Jim Allen of the New York Apple Association said that while no contracts were signed, he thought the trip was successful and well organized by the department.

“We met with some high officials, including (chairman and CEO of Alimport Food Import Company) Pedro Alvarez Borrego, who oversees products coming into the country,” Allen said. “There were a lot of different purchasing divisions, including the hard currency retail market, which is mainly a group independent from the government. We had two apple shippers talk about prices and a great overview about what we can do for them.

“Though (a contract) wasn’t signed, they showed a lot of interest. We are nearing the end of our season and prices are tight, but it opens up doors,” Allen continued. “Cuba imports apples from Virginia and, right now, only the East Coast has clearance (for trade), so that is good for us.”

Allen said this was his second trip to Cuba following a visit in 2002 for a trade show, after Congress had signed legislation allowing shipments to Cuba.

L. Sue Bachorski of Constellation Wines agreed the delegation was well received.

“It was a great trip and it was great that the governor and commissioner supported it,” she said, adding that this was her first trip to the country. “It was a very interesting and educational experience to see what opportunities are there. It was more of a fact-finding mission than anything specific. The initial trip is more to present and create awareness.”

Kelli O’Brien can be reached at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 272, or at