Editor’s note: This article first appeared on the website of the Georgia Department of Economic Development on Oct. 21, 2022, and is reprinted with permission. The interview was conducted by the GDEcD trade team.
In 2022, the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s International Trade Division recognized Interra International as an Exporter of the Year in the large company category.
With offices in metro Atlanta, China, France and Mexico, the company was one of three chosen from the 2022 GLOBE Awards program winners for their success in global exporting.
Who They Are
This Atlanta-based company distributes food products and ingredients globally, including poultry, pork, and beef, dairy, nuts, rice, sugar, edible oils, and feed ingredients. The company also distributes consumer-packaged goods to retail and food service industries.
Why They Won
Interra had a record export year in 2021 and, despite challenges from the pandemic, the company was able to maintain strong relationships with existing customers and expand their export reach. Interra is a long-time global exporter that sells into over 100 countries. Their dedication to being a global business is reflected in their willingness to work in markets that other U.S. companies tend to avoid and their continued investment in their international sales markets.
Q&A interview with CEO Steve Isaf
GDEcD: How long has your company been exporting, and what motivated you to start selling internationally?
We’ve been exporting since Interra’s inception in 2000. Our vision was always to be “One Contact to the World” for all of our partners. We connect our customers to products from around the world, and we connect our suppliers to countless markets around the globe.
What is the biggest lesson your company has learned about exporting?
We’ve learned that there are opportunities in places that people often don’t consider. We have developed great partnerships in so many corners of the world. With agricultural commodities, the U.S. has a comparative advantage in exporting, so we source a lot from here and ship to customers worldwide. But there are also opportunities in less-developed countries for supply, not just for customers. This helps us differentiate ourselves and drives value to our partnerships by providing them a global reach.
What resources helped the business achieve success internationally?
Interra first interacted with GDEcD in 2010. The USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) has played a big role, working on trade barriers and sharing global market information. Other internationally focused trade associations have been helpful, such as USMEF (U.S. Meat Export Federation), USAPEEC (USA Poultry and Egg Export Council), USDEC (U.S. Dairy Export Council), the American Peanut Council, and the U.S. Rice Producers Association. We have also received great assistance from SUSTA (Southern United States Trade Association) for tradeshows and other marketing efforts.
What export challenges did you face in 2021, and how did you respond?
There are always export challenges in this business: new tariffs, export bans, transportation and port strikes, currency issues, animal diseases, and congestion at various points in the supply chain. Having already faced such an array of challenges quite regularly, we were very prepared to maneuver the disruptions caused by the pandemic.
In the case of Covid-19, lockdowns happened in different countries at different times. These lockdowns caused bottlenecks at various points in the supply chain, such as delays in production, lack of space on vessels, lack of empty ocean containers, and tight trucking and warehouse capacity. Employment issues at production facilities has also caused significant disruption in product availability.
We have dealt with these issues the same way we always do – by responding quickly, identifying creative solutions, and always having a backup plan (or four). Being in the food industry has also been great for us because, in good times or bad, everyone in the world needs to eat!
What advice would you give to companies that are just starting to export?
Do not expect things to go smoothly. Diversification is important because there are many factors outside your control, including government policies that can adversely affect delivery to customers. These could include tariff and non-tariff barriers. It is critical to understand financial and economic risks to determine your tolerance thereof. Finally, remember that when you travel, you are a guest in that country. Be mindful of different customs and be considerate of other ways of doing things.
Are you a Georgia business looking for help growing your international sales? Find out how Georgia’s International Trade Team can help at www.Georgia.org/Trade.