Helping Small Businesses Make a Trade Impact

  |   Feature

Recently, USDA announced that U.S. agricultural exports for fiscal year 2013 finished at another record level, continuing the strongest five-year period for such exports in our nation’s history. Much of this success is due to small businesses, which Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack noted are the backbone of the economy in rural communities, small towns and big cities.

USDA’s efforts with small businesses is helped by the work of four state regional trade groups (SRTGs) – coalitions of state departments of agriculture – that use USDA market development program funds to provide support for about 30,000 companies annually.

One SRTG is the Food Export Association of the Midwest USA, which uses USDA’s Market Access Program funds to provide export assistance to companies in 12 Midwestern states. In 2012, Food Export-Midwest helped more than 750 companies participate in activities such as buyers missions, trade missions, trade show services and educational seminars. These companies projected more than $413 million in export sales; the top markets were Canada, China, Germany and Mexico.

“Many small and medium sized food companies are interested in exporting but may not have the resources available to get started or maintain a successful export program,” said Tim Hamilton, Food Export-Midwest president. “This is where we can help with specialized services providing exporter education, market entry activities and market promotion programs.”

Food Export-Midwest’s Focused Trade Mission program helped Flavor Consultants, Inc., which represents food companies in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, and Germantown, Wisconsin, successfully export bakery and specialty products to Asian markets. In 2009, the company attended a trade mission to Thailand and the Philippines that helped increase its export sales.

“Focused trade missions are an economical way for us to get our name out there and sell U.S. products,” said Tim Wallace, company president and owner. “Through meetings with qualified buyers arranged through the Focused Trade Mission, we met a distributor from Indonesia. As a result, in June 2010 we started selling honey powder to the region for the Minnesota company we represent. Export sales for 2010 totaled $27,000. In 2011, these sales grew to $116,000 and in 2012 reached $497,000.”

During the trade mission, Flavor also met new customers in the Philippines who are working to purchase flavored butter from Flavor’s Wisconsin company. Overall, increased export sales led Flavor to build new facilities in both Minnesota and Wisconsin and create new jobs for the local community.

Partnering with SRTGs such as Food Export-Midwest and other trade organizations has helped USDA increase the number of new-to-export companies reached and expanded the number of markets U.S. companies have entered. For more information about USDA’s market development programs, see Market Development