From pancakes to pork sausage, Georgia-made food products are finding their way onto shelves overseas with the help of a government-backed agency that demystifies exporting and reduces the cost of selling abroad.
For Erica Barrett, founder of Southern Culture Artisan Foods, the fact that 95 percent of consumers live outside the U.S. meant ignoring the rest of the world was not an option.
“It’s almost like a no-brainer,” said Ms. Barrett, who started selling her pancake and flavoring mixes in 2011 after winning a cooking contest. She has grown it to $500,000 in sales and hopes to break $1 million this year.
For Southern Culture, exporting was made simple by the Southern United States Trade Association, which administers market-access programs from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. SUSTA helps companies attend trade shows overseas, reimbursing certain costs and providing free market research.
After attending a seminar, Ms. Barrett looked on SUSTA’s website for trade shows in countries where she thought her products would sell well. Then she connected with the U.S. Commercial Service to confirm her plans through research.
With SUSTA’s help, she traveled to the United Arab Emirates, where she landed a distributor who is now selling vanilla, meyer lemon blueberry and strawberry shortcake pancake mixes in the Middle Eastern nation. She later broke into Germany and Canada and has plans to enter France and South Africa this year – again through SUSTA trade shows.
More Georgia firms will had the chance to follow in Ms. Barrett’s footsteps Tuesday, Feb. 11, when New Orleans-based SUSTA brings a free export seminar to Atlanta.
Already, 25 companies have signed up for the event at the Hyatt Atlanta Midtown, which is to include an open forum followed by one-on-one meetings with the SUSTA team.
The goal is to help small companies get over their fear of exporting by introducing them to the vast ecosystem of government programs that can help mitigate risk, said Danielle Viguerie, head of communications for SUSTA.
“I think a lot of people think it’s a lot easier to stay within the borders of our own country. Learning about exporting can seem very daunting,” Ms. Viguerie said, noting that companies worry about the costs of marketing and getting stiffed by foreign buyers.
But U.S. food products are in high demand overseas, as much for safety and quality reasons as for changing tastes.
David Martin of Homestyle Foods LLC has become a walking advertisement for SUSTA since it helped him affordably introduce his company’s sausage products to potential buyers at trade shows in Japan and Brazil.
In Brazil, he spent just $300 out of pocket after his round-trip airfare was reimbursed. On the ground, SUSTA set up seven meetings and provided transportation, an interpreter and a per diem to help with lodging expenses. SUSTA also translates marketing documents into other languages for free, which Mr. Martin said is important when doing business cross-culturally.
He has also attended inbound trade missions, where the organization has brought in buyers from places like Korea, Chile and Mexico. Qualified American companies can participate for as little as $50. It’s a great way to gauge interest without spending much, said Mr. Martin, who now sits on the Georgia District Export Council and is looking to help other Georgia companies sell abroad.
“Where else can you go for $50 and find out if you have an international product?” he said.
Armed with knowledge, Mr. Martin and his partners have launched two new companies with international ambitions.
Widget Development and Trading Company has begun selling peanuts to Bermuda, while Gotcha Goat, which raises and processes goat meat in Georgia, sees vast opportunity abroad. Inquiries have come in from places like Morocco and the UAE about providing USDA- and halal-approved goat meat products. In Africa, Mr. Martin is looking to sell goat jerky that can supplement the continent’s protein needs without requiring refrigeration.
Without SUSTA, he says, planning for such widespread global engagement would be impossible, because companies like his wouldn’t know whom to trust when accessing a foreign market. He’ll continue promoting SUSTA far and wide, especially to minority-owned firms.
“I want people to know about it,” he said.
Click here for more information on the export seminar and one-on-one meetings with trade agencies, including SUSTA, Georgia Department of Economic Development, U.S. Export Assistance Center, Small Business Development Center-International Trade Center, Small Business Administration, Export-Import Bank of the United States.
For a similar event, attend the Feb. 17 Go Global Reception to meet the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s representatives in 11 overseas markets.