How to Get Free Help & Funding to Export and Promote Food Products

Your Tax Dollars at Work Supporting Your Food Business Dreams!

Line of Sonoma Syrup products 2015
Sonoma Syrup exports its syrups with help from WUSATA. Susie Wyshak

If you're planning a food brand, read this before developing your food and packaging.  

You're traveling abroad see a familiar food brand on the shelf at a supermarket or specialty store.

How did it get there? Very likely, with a lot of help, connections and funding from the U.S. government. Makers of food products using American-produced ingredients can access these resources too!

Why to Get Help Exporting Your Food Products

Your food may be a winner in the United States.

But the day you decide to export, or an importer approaches you asking about selling abroad, now what? 

So many variables go into how, if and when you should export your food. The appeal is undeniable: 95% of the world's population and 2/3 of total world purchasing power is outside of the United States.

Especially when it comes to meat and dairy products, tariffs and bans may abound, not to mention the fact that many countries don't even allow foods containing GMO (genetically modified organisms) ingredients into their countries. So, producing Non-GMO Verified or Certified Organic foods — which are now allowed to contain GMO ingredients — can open up more doors to sales abroad!

Minefields in exporting can range from labeling to brand imagery. Why make expensive mistakes?

Learn About Exporting Your Foods Early On

Foreign Agricultural Service Market Access Program for Connections at Home and Abroad

The Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) is part of the USDA and runs the programs connecting U.S. food makers with food buyers abroad. For one, they host trade missions matching you and your products with food buyers and distributors in various countries, basically hand-holding you in your journey.

The Market Access Program (MAP) is a market development program from the USDA, Foreign Agricultural Service with a goal to support U.S. small businesses and farms by launching and expanding sales of food and agricultural products overseas.

  MAP creates partnerships between the USDA, State Regional Trade Groups (see below), non-profit agricultural trade associations, agricultural cooperatives, and small businesses.  

While the applications for the FAS' 2016 Market Access Program have closed, the questions are worth reviewing if you're hoping to get support expanding your food product line worldwide

Oh, and what's better than online dating? FAS Trade Lead System matches your food products with foreign buyers specifically looking for foods like yours.

Start Here: State Regional Trade Groups (SRTGs) for Individual Export Support

Four nationwide State Regional Trade Groups (SRTGs) are dedicated to helping U.S. food and agricultural companies sell their products in international markets.

The SRTGs are independent nonprofits with close ties to regional member states and to the USDA to provide a range of support resources in three key areas:

  • export promotion
  • personal export assistance
  • the cost-share funding program

Food Export-Northeast and Food Export-Midwest work with food producers in those U.S. regions. Their food export success stories abound, enhanced by their presence at international food trade shows where they foster connections with buyers and American producers.

Southern United States Trade Association (SUSTA) is a non-profit agricultural export trade development association comprised of the Departments of Agriculture of the 15 southern states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. 

Western United States Trade Association (WUSATA) supports food companies in 13 Western states, where the majority of specialty food companies are located, according to the Specialty Food Association.

8 Incredible Food Export Promotion Services for American Food Brands

Each trade promotion agency runs what is called the Branded Program — pure gold for small food businesses.

Only small companies, as defined by the U.S. Small Business Administration, and agricultural producer cooperatives are eligible to participate.

Just a few ways the promotion agencies can set you on the right path for success exporting your food are as follows:

  1. International website development, which is so important to be sure your potential food buyers understand what you are offering but also to make sure the text on your website appears in the proper language and does not look like a bunch of gobbledygook. (Systems like Shopify localize your online store automatically.)
  2. Package and label modifications to ensure your food labels conform to standards in each country where you will be selling. Getting expert advice in the specific language, the order, and format of your ingredients as well as the actual ingredients you're using is critical. One small mistake can prevent you from selling in a country!
  3. Advertising, which of course needs to be in the language of your target countries not to mention culturally appealing.
  4. In-store promotions and product demonstrations with staff who understand what will most appeal, and be of most concern, to local food buyers.
  5. Fees for exhibiting at some food and beverage trade shows abroad and in the U.S. such as the Fancy Food Show, which  is considered an international trade show!
  6. Public relations to connect you with media in the countries where you will be selling. You don't want to spend money on trade shows and marketing your foods abroad then miss out on extra, free press mentions. 
  7. Marketing and point-of-sale materials to promote your foods in international supermarkets and at any food trade shows.
  8. Freight cost for samples, which can really take a bite out of your budget.

These are just the start of support services available. Others include market research, overcoming trade barriers and resolution of sanitation issues.

Food Export Success Stories

POP! Gourmet attributes WUSATA for their expansion into exporting internationally. Founder David Israel explained that a large group from Dubai had reached out to POP! Gourmet. "WUSATA made it possible to launch internationally," he said. "Otherwise we wouldn't have been able to. The company launched in Dubai, then their snacks took off in that region and other countries.

Food Export helped Minnesota-based Tokyo International meet 20 new Korean buyers at a show, helping the company penetrate the Korean market for the first time, with a $90,000 sale and projected sales of $3 million over the following year.

The FAS was instrumental in helping fast-growing Perky Jerky, whose jerky is enhanced with energizing guarana. When Japan lifted a ban on certain American beef, the FAS acted fast in collaboration with Perky Jerky so the company could exhibit at an upcoming food tradeshow in Japan. 

Company after company whom I interviewed for Good Food, Great Business could not rave enough about the connections and information the trade promotion agencies provided in reaching food buyers beyond our borders.

Key Links to Food Export Resources

Next Step: Each SRTG offers timely resources such as newsletters, reports, and videos. Sign up to learn more and keep in touch with new regulations and opportunities for selling abroad.

Also, see which countries sell the most U.S. products to think about the match with your foods.

Start learning before you plan and launch your food products in the U.S.!