English Articles > Written February 13, 1998
Fourth US rice exporter grows in Miami :
French founded NewField sends rice to Latin America.

Miami is known for being an international platform for many kinds of trades. But it seemed almost unexpected that Brickell Avenue would become home for NewField Partners, the fourth largest rice exporter in the United States.

Miami, a natural choice
"If you set aside the two major producers' cooperatives, which are not really private businesses, we're the fourth private rice exporters in the US," confirmed Nicolas Topiol, one of the four partners at NewField Partners. Of course, most of the firm's clients are in Latin American and Caribbean countries, which made Miami a natural choice when the compagny started here, in 1992. "Miami is the crossroads of Latin America", Mr. Topiol insists. "And rice is the basic food for almost every country in the world, except the US and Western Europe. The highest rice consumers in Europe are Portuguese, with 12 kilos per person per year, versus about 4.5 kilos for Americans or French. By contrast, rice consumption varies from 30 to 60 kilos per person per year in Latin America - Brazil being among the biggest consumers at 50 kilos per person."

220,000 tons of rice exported in 1997
The rice business is unique. World production is about the same as wheat, around 580 million tons a year, but international trade is only about 17 to 18 million tons, and 40% of that are directly dealt between governments, detailed Mr. Topiol, leaving only a very small portion of 10 to 11 million tons for private traders. "The US production is about 8.5 million tons and US rice exports are between 2.2 and 2.4 million tons a year", said Mr. Topiol. "With 220,000 tons of exports last year, we're responsible for about 8% to 10% of the US rice exports." Of course, one could wonder where does all this rice comes from. "The US has two regions of rice production," Mr. Topiol said. "California, which produces mostly round rice, and along the Mississippi River, in Arkansas, Louisiana and eastern Texas, where long grain rice grows - the grain that makes up the majority of rice consumption." That's mostly where NewField Partners gets its rice as a map of the Mississippi River framed in the Brickell office hints.

Jumbo Rice's blue elephant becomes brand name
Not surprisingly, NewField reports its best clients are Latin American and Caribbean countries. "We've just sold a 20,000-tons boatload of rice to Costa Rica," Mr. Topiol said. "We're the first rice suppliers to Nicaragua and Honduras, with 45% and 75% of their rice imports, respectively." The reason for such a steady business is that NewField Partners doesn't consider itself as a typical commodities trader. "We're trying to have a more recurrent activity by developing distribution and promoting our own brand, Jumbo Rice, which has already gained a reputation of quality in some Latin America street markets where consumers are ready to pay slightly higher for it" says Mr. Topiol. The Jumbo Rice is packed in 50-kilo bags sporting a design featuring a blue elephant rather than in small cardboard boxes, he says, a good approach because rice is sold in bulk in many street markets in emerging countries. As a result, their business is growing. "60% of our sales volume is still done by trading but Jumbo Rice represents 40% of that and amounts to 47% of our turnover, as it has a higher return than wholesale rice", adds Mr. Topiol. Overall, NewField Partners revenues have grown from $11 millions in 1992 to $115 millions in 1997. The company, originally established with the backing of Colombian industrial investors, is also owned 20% by its managers.

Argentina and Chile produce high-quality rice
Capitalizing on its knowledge of the rice business, NewField Partners has also ventured in other related markets, investing in a potential vertical integration of supply and distribution, Mr. Topiol explains. "We've set up from scratch Haiti Bulk International, a distribution outlet in Haiti which allows us to send rice in bulk and pack it ourselves in bags when it arrives in Haiti," says Mr. Topiol. "It is a profitable investment and makes us more competitive in this market, where he said NewField is tied for the number one sales spot." Rice production is also an area of interest for NewField Partners. "Argentina and Chile are starting to be high-quality rice producers able to compete with the US," explained Mr. Topiol, "because they produce rice at a cheaper price and without subsidies." Argentina is producing 1.2 million tons of rice annually, which is already a seventh of the total US rice production, Mr. Topiol said. "We have invested in the second rice farm of Uruguay, a country that produces 900,000 tons a year," Mr. Topiol added. The farm covers 16,000 hectares, or nearly 40,000 acres of land, and includes 16,000 head of cattle and sheep. A very different pace of business than the frantic trading of speculative rice contracts on the Chicago board of trade.

Gilles Pouzin