Marketing tips: Building relationships with fresh produce export agents

The relationships you build with your export agent and other key role-players become the oil that makes the exporting engine work smoothly.

This is probably the most important part of exporting fresh produce. Your export agent is your key player, the person with whom you will have the most dealings and who will be advising you all the way.

The relationship between farmer and export agent has many components, but let’s concentrate on the 4 below. They are the most important building blocks of the bond between you and your export agent.

Building the relationship won’t happen overnight, so the sooner you start the better. Get the elements working on both sides and almost everything that follows will fall into place.


It takes time to build trust between two people or businesses – it is a joint effort that requires patience, understanding, time and good communication.

Without trust there can never be a sustainable business relationship – and it requires equal effort from both sides.


Talk to me! That’s only half of it. I must talk to you as well.

Your export agent will be in touch with you before the season starts. He’ll talk planning and will need to know what to expect from you.

This is where farm records become so important because, as a responsible farmer, you don’t want to give him wild guesses. He needs accurate information based on past history as well as the current position.

He needs good information because when he talks to overseas buyers he needs to be sure of his facts.


  • The world of fresh produce is a complex one and things do sometimes go wrong.
  • The products we grow are perishable.
  • Distances from farm to retail shelf are enormous.
  • Quality standards are high and customers can be very demanding.
  • When things don’t work out, it’s time for patience and understanding.
  • People who throw tantrums and loudly demand action are usually trying to hide their own shortcomings.
  • It is far better to sit down with your export agent and work through the issues together.


So you thought service meant what your export agent can do for you? You’re only half right. What about the service you should be giving him? This is a two-way situation.

Sure, he needs to support you and get you deals, offer sound advice, make sure all the shipping and marketing arrangements are in place, pay you in good time, and more.

But what about you, the farmer? You have to ensure your quality and packaging standards are as specified, the quantities ordered are correct, that cold room temperatures are correct, that the consignment has passed your country’s perishable products export control board inspection and that you are ready to load on the agreed date.


In the business of exporting – as in most other businesses – there are also a few fly-by-nights who’re out to make a quick buck.

Be on your guard: these are the smooth-talking ones who make grandiose promises of how much money they’re going to make for you. I call them the silver-tongued foxes. They’re potentially dangerous and can cost you a lot of money.

The first question you must ask them is: “Are you a accredited and if so, can you prove it?”

If he can’t answer that question, send him on his way and phone your country’s accreditation regulators for their list of accredited export agents.

It’s your money; handle it responsibly.

Also read:
The fresh produce supply chain
Options to market your fruit and vegetables
An introduction to exporting your fruit and vegetables

  • This article was written by Michael Cordes and first appeared in Farming SA.

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