No one wants to celebrate during a pandemic, but for Crider Foods in Stillmore, Ga., 2020 has been a great year business wise.
The provider of canned proteins like chicken, turkey, beef and pork has seen demand jump worldwide as supply chains have grown increasingly uncertain, giving shelf stable products an unexpected boost.
“Ironically it has been a huge boon for our business — for the wrong reason. But we have increased our production by over 40 percent this year and are still having a hard time keeping up,” said Gary Clay, vice president in charge of the company’s international business.
But finding markets globally to help offset market softness at home isn’t a quick fix. It takes careful cultivation of an export business through dedication, focus and a persistent commitment to new partners and markets.
That was the consensus among Georgia exporters and service providers who joined a recent virtual meeting of the Georgia Department of Economic Development‘s board of directors to give them a sense of how the state’s trade division helps companies create jobs through exports — or preserve them in leaner times through increased resiliency.
Mr. Clay, a veteran of the export game since his days with Cargill Inc., joined Crider seven years ago to initiate a non-existent international business. He started with a tried and true playbook: visiting trade shows to show off the company’s canned chicken, which often demanded a demonstration and taste test. Now it’s in all Costco stores, even those abroad.
“Any time you take a new product to a new market, the key is peopler have to experience it. They have to find out what’s in the can, in our case,” he said.
He worked with the state, as well as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agriculture Service, to research and identify new markets and partners, and participated in events and trade missions hosted by the Southern United States Trade Association, or SUSTA, and the Stone Mountain-based USA Poultry and Egg Export Council.
It was a high-touch model that worked well, especially when the company hired local representatives in Peru to help navigate the sales channels: Now the company supplies major institutional feeding programs in the country, sometimes displacing tuna.
But Mr. Clay is finding now that Zoom can be almost as efficient with a more targeted approach that takes more upfront work but can often lead to a shorter sales cycle than chasing down trade-show leads. After the meeting, he was slated to join a call with a potential customer in China that had received samples in the mail to be tried before the call.
“It’s better in some ways. You’re speaking to the decision-makers. There are not a thousand people around, it’s only one on one,” Mr. Clay said.
President Sean Casey of Rotorcorp LLC, which supplies parts to Robinson Helicopter operators around the world, has also seen the pandemic unexpectedly validate aspects of the company’s business transformation.
Rotorcorp took the clunky process of ordering helicopter parts and moved it online, with the help of export funding and grants from the likes of the U.S. Small Business Administration, which named Rotorcorp its exporter of the year for the Southeast in 2019.
This added convenience for customers, born out of a desire to help the end user supplement inefficient in-country service providers, served the Atlanta-based company well when the pandemic began to expose companies’ vulnerabilities.
But Mr. Casey said the exporting road has been paved with many mistakes, and knowing earlier what groups like the UGA Small Business Development Center (represented on the call by International Trade Center Director Darrel Hulsey) taught would helped reach export success much more quickly.
“I really wish that business schools and other educational outlets would introduce the opportunities that are available through exporting as part of the 101 part of business education, instead of an add-on,” Mr. Casey said.
Sidestepping those pitfalls is one reason the state has trade and investment representatives in 12 markets around the world, including Veronica Medina, the managing director of Georgia’s offices in Chile and Peru.
Based in Santiago, Chile, Ms. Medina said her team helps companies formulate a strategy that accentuates the right attributes of products and find the right sales partners, work which is now being done remotely. Most recently, she has been helping a Georgia tourism company build relationships in Chile and Peru so they can hit the ground running when travel restarts.
Ms. Medina said trade tensions and political uncertainty have not dampened the appetite in the region for U.S. products.
“It doesn’t affect it at all. We look and we have historically looked toward the USA for quality-made” products and services, she said.
Mr. Clay at Crider agreed; demand is steady. The problem in the food industry is tariffs in places like India, where the company could theoretically sell but is rendered uncompetitive by a 100 percent tariff, he said.
The overarching key, all parties mentioned, is sticking to it — committing to the markets that make sense so that the approach is less swayed by short-term factors and more by long-term plans.
Those are what the team led by Mary Waters, deputy commissioner for trade, hope to help companies craft when they join the hundreds of firms that utilize its free services every year. Some 90 percent are small and medium-sized businesses, many of which will be highlighted this week among the 26 winners of the GLOBE Award, which honors Georgia companies for breaking into new export markets during the past fiscal year.
Wrapping up, Georgia Department of Economic Development Commissioner Pat Wilson highlighted Georgia’s recent designation as the No. 1 state for business for an “unprecedented” eighth time, borrowing a term that has been used most often in the negative sense during a health crisis that has battered the economy both here and abroad.
“We’ve decided that we want to take that word back,” Mr. Wilson said.
Learn more about Crider Foods’ export journey in this GDEcD spotlight profile:
Learn more at www.georgia.org/international/trade.