When most people outside the United States think about what products come from Tennessee, their first response is typically Jack Daniels and Elvis Presley.
As an international marketing specialist with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture (TDA), Kyle Holmberg hears it all the time. But in truth, the state has quite a diverse and growing range of exports, especially food products. Major brands with roots in Tennessee include some well-known brands like Bush’s Beans, YoPlait and Pringles, but the list also includes surprising brands like Tasti D-Lite yogurt, which in 2011 expanded with shops in Australia.
The yogurt company, along with other Tennessee companies that produce value-added foods, are tapping into big North American markets such as Canada and Mexico and also see growing interest from other parts of the globe, including Asia, South America and Europe.
The most successful companies produce a niche product and don’t try to be everything to everyone, says Holmberg, who is Tennessee’s representative with the Southern United States Trade Association, or SUSTA. He coordinates the region’s marketing for six international food and agriculture events each year as well as helps companies find potential new markets for their products.
“It can be difficult to compete with the big names,” he says. “Niche products, quality products – that’s what makes the sell.”
Snoopy Sells – in Japan
The Pasta Shoppe, based in Nashville, makes pasta with unique, fun shapes and has avid customers in Japan, where a taste for Americana translates into nearly half a million bags of pasta annually, says John Aron, president and CEO.
“Our product fits,” Aron says. “They like our Halloween pasta, snowflake, Easter and Valentine’s Day pastas.”
The Pasta Shoppe even makes a Snoopy pasta for the Japanese market. Disney switched production of its licensed shapes and characters from a manufacturer in Italy to The Pasta Shoppe when the recession hit.
Seventy-five percent of the company’s sales start online, including a deal that landed novelty pasta in Guatemala, Aron says.
“This is a female-targeted business, and variety is the differentiator,” he says.
Other Tennessee-specialty foods do well abroad, too. Lynchburg Cake and Candy, a Jack Daniels’ neighbor, makes whiskey-tinged cakes, candies and pralines. Allegro Fine Foods, based in Paris, Tenn., produces popular marinades and sauces that include specialty items such as Raspberry & Chipotle Marinade, Soy & Lime Marinade and a marinade formulated for game meat.
Green Beans Direct to Canada
The state’s fresh products also see opportunities on a grand scale.
Tennessee Vegetable Packers, a family-owned business in its fourth generation, specializes in green beans but also cultivates butter beans, peas, green and yellow squash, eggplant, cucumbers, corn, bell pepper and cabbage on nearly 5,000 acres in three states. Based in Crossville, the company owns much of the acreage itself but also represents farmers with their own land.
Canada, especially the Toronto area, is a growing market, says Lewis Walker, president of Tennessee Vegetable Packers.
“We are growing a darker green been specifically for the Toronto market and also ship wax beans, which is not something people in the South buy,” he says. “Canadians have always eaten more vegetables per capita than in the U.S., and it’s a good market for us.”
Tennessee also is a strong exporter of commodities, a position expected to strengthen with the opening of the Port of Cates Landing later in 2012. This will be a busy year – SUSTA is bringing Tennessee products and producers to trade shows in Germany, Argentina, Spain, India, Japan, China, Taiwan, Singapore, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia and France – as well as hosting multiple inbound delegations from abroad.
Tennessee’s Top Value-Added Agriculture Exports:
• Top markets: United Kingdom, France, Germany
• 2011 value: $584 million
Fats and Oils
• Top markets: Canada, Djibouti
• 2011 value: $84.4 million
• Top markets: Canada, Mexico
• 2011 value: $29.86 million
• Top markets: Canada, Bahamas
• 2011 value: $2.4 million
• Top markets: Canada, Japan
• 2011 value: $2.6 million