Going global can be an excellent way to expand and grow local agribusinesses, although exporting arguably comes with its own set of challenges. Trade missions and food fairs offer local food and beverage companies an opportunity to cultivate buyer-seller relationships, learn more about their existing competition, gain invaluable exposure and more.
The Canadian Trade Mission
In September 2018, five Tennessee food and beverage manufacturers attended a four-day Canadian trade mission to Toronto: Bluegrass BBQ, Chai Wallah, Grab The Gold, Hydrate and Puckett’s. Participants visited 10 different Canadian markets – such as Farm Boy, Longo’s, Adonis and Loblaw’s – and had targeted one-on- one meetings with Canadian buyers. These market visits were key to identifying existing competition and gaining exposure in storefronts where their products could be sold.
“The Canadian trade mission was an amazing experience,” says attendee Danielle Ontiveros, founder of Grab The Gold, which is selling in over 2,500 stores in the Southeast and has the potential to expand across the nation.
“We learned what a great opportunity exists for exports to Canada, as well as the obstacles and how to overcome them. Appointments were set up for us, and we met with distributors and brokers who were looking at products in our category,” she adds.
As a Pick Tennessee Products member and trade show exhibitor, Ontiveros recognizes the importance of one-on-one time with retail buyers. This trip has affirmed her optimism about exporting the protein snack bars as healthy grab-and-go options for the Canadian market.
For Puckett’s, which has built a name for its five restaurants through great music, slow-cooked barbecue and a sense of Southern hospitality, the trade mission provided a chance to determine if there would be a market for their barbecue sauces, rubs and seasonings. According to Mark Gothard, CFO and director of business development for A. Marshall Hospitality Inc., that answer was a resounding yes.
“We met with several food brokers and are interviewing potential relationships that fit with our brand and culture. It was a great learning experience that included education on the differences between U.S. and Canadian food trends, nutritional and ingredient labeling requirements, and the logistical challenges that come with a market the size of Canada,” says Gothard.
The Canadian trade mission, and many others like it, was made possible by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture (TDA). Committed to supporting and pursuing export opportunities for food, fiber and forestry businesses statewide, TDA is a grower’s go-to resource for international trade.
“The TDA is a valuable resource and provided guidance, assistance and support as we walked our way through a new process for our business. We appreciated the opportunity former Commissioner Templeton gave us by considering Puckett’s as a brand worth presenting in a new market. Whitney Flatt, our agribusiness partner, was a rock star and was there every step of the way with information, leadership and support as we navigated the Canadian market. I would say to other ag companies interested in exporting in the future to lean on TDA’s resources, invite their support and work hand in hand with their guidance. They have your best interest at heart,” he adds.
The American Food Fair
With as many as 65,000 buyers and attendees from all across the food sector, the annual American Food Fair in Chicago each May provides exceptional exposure, earning it the nickname “The Disney World of Food and Beverage.” Attending the 2018 fair were both Winfrey Foods and Blackberry Farm.
Winfrey Foods, whose signature product is Royal Relish Original Chow Chow, which can be found in all Publix supermarkets across Tennessee, also tantalized taste buds throughout the convention’s three floors.
“We were on a strategic mission to develop contacts and secure business,” says Karla Winfrey. After talking with decision-makers and delegations from South America, Canada, Africa and Asia, Winfrey accomplished just that.
“We gained a new client in Denver, a Mexican restaurant chain. Since the convention, we have been in talks with a leading hot dog manufacturer that is including Royal Relish in a new product trial for food trucks. A buyer from a national amusement park requested additional samples. The international guests commented that the taste and texture was superb…[and] we discussed how Royal Relish could be integrated into their cuisine,” she says, positioning the brand to explore export markets abroad.
Also sharing a taste of Tennessee with the world was Blackberry Farm, which pampers guests with its luxurious lodgings and fine dining on a spectacular 4,200-acre estate in the Great Smoky Mountains. They promoted a variety of artisanal items such as their Classic Saison beer, Singing Brook and Brebis cheeses, and a variety of preserves, including their famous blackberry jam.
As for what’s in store for 2019, Whitney Flatt, international marketing consultant for TDA, says, “The future of Tennessee trade is looking bright. We’re currently getting ready to host Canadian buyers of beer, wine and spirits this April, as well as take several agribusinesses to trade events in Vietnam and Hong Kong.”
One thing is for certain: Exporting just got a little easier in Tennessee.