After trying for 15 years to break into the Chinese rice market, a 100-year old family business based in Sacramento has cut a deal to sell its rice in China. In July, Sun Valley Rice became the first US company to sell its rice in China.
“China has been tough to get into because for many years it was illegal to sell our rice there,” said Betsy Ward, president of USA Rice, a national trade association.
Until a 2018 agreement was forged between the US and China, it was illegal for the US to sell rice to China. When that law was lifted over 25 US companies were approved to sell their rice to China. Sun Valley became the first to make a deal.
“We would travel regularly to China to research [the market], attend trade shows and meet the industry players,” said Ken LaGrande, who founded Sun Valley Rice with his father Michael in 2000. “It was a commitment we made as a family to persist. So when the opportunity opened up, we were ready.”
The LeGrande Family has been producing rice in the Sacramento Valley since the 1920s LaGrande’s great-grandfather saw that the area’s climate, water supply, and soil was correctly proportioned to perfectly grow rice. Over the years the family incorporated other parts of rice production into their business, including drying and milling. This business became the LaGrande Family Foods Group. Now the Group is composed of many different operations, including farming, sprouting rice and milling sake.
Almost 20 years ago, in 2000, LaGrand and his father Michael saw an increased market demand for high quality, specialized rice. That is when Sun Valley Rice was born.
“Sun Valley Rice now is a fully integrated arm of the family business, ‘from farm to fork’ if you will,” said LaGrande. “We source rice from 200 farms, or about 10% of the rice crop gown in California. And we handle drying, milling, packaging and marketing of the rice.”
It is likely other rice growers will also land deals to sell their rice in China.
“We have the first sale. But we really hope there will be strong continuing demand for American rice in China, and that allows, in turn, more opportunity for farmers back in California,” LeGrande said.