China Imports $6 Billion A Year From Washington State

PHOTO Made in Washington State, Almond Roca is a huge hit in China.
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China's status as the United States' number one importer has heavy hitters like Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mayor Michael Bloomberg passing through Beijing jockeying for a piece of the China market, But there's one little welterweight that's making a big hit.

Call Washington state the little engine that could.

After a hard-fought campaign of cold calls and constant visits, China is eating Washington up, from its apples, to its salmon and its candy.

In the last decade, Washington state's exports to China increased over 300 percent. Last year, the state exported nearly $6 billion worth of products to China, second only to California.

Almond Roca Craze In China

Chinese consumers are going crazy for a Washington state candy called Almond Roca.

The buttercrunch toffee is an affordable treat in the United States. In China, it's marketed as a luxury item, showcased in upscale department stores and repackaged with Chinese characters. The Chinese character for Roca actually means "happy family."

"It's a well-known brand, packaging very premium, very classy, pink color, very attractive, very feminine," Aven Yeung from Sims East, a major distributor of imported products to China, said.

The log-shaped candy is a popular holiday gift. During the Chinese New Year, the company expects to sell two million pounds of the sweet.

Asians first got a taste of the candy during World War II, said Almond Roca Chief Executive Officer Pierson Clair.

"We [United States] had a number of Navy bases in the Puget Sound and so captains and supply officers would throw on cases of Almond Roca to be on the ships for provisions, but they also used them for barter across Asia," Clair said.

Wine A Growing Export

The candy was formally introduced in Chinese department stores 22 years ago. It's an export that American workers can rest easy about; all of the candy is made in America, and sales in China have caused the factory of 300 workers to create another 25 jobs.

"China is the star of our export business," Pierson said.

Washington state isn't stopping with the candy. There's a new opportunity in wine. The expansion of restaurants and supermarkets in China is providing a new opportunity for marketing wine from the state.

As more of China's elite make the move from the traditional white liquor called Baijiu, they're increasingly toasting to success with a nice, glass of Washington state wine mixed with a splash of Coca-Cola. They say the coke makes it sweeter.

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