Vermont Small Businesses Make Inroads in Canadian Market

  |   Feature
A New Gateway for Canadian Consumers to U.S. Foods

By Maria Arbulu, FAS Senior Marketing Specialist, U.S. Embassy, Ottawa, Canada

Helping small- and medium-sized businesses to export their products is a cornerstone of the President’s National Export Initiative (NEI), which aims to double U.S. exports by the end of 2014. The partnership between the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), non-profit U.S. agricultural trade organizations (called “cooperators”) and state regional trade groups (SRTGs) is essential to achieving that goal. The power of this partnership was clearly highlighted at the SIAL Canada trade show in Montreal May 9-11, where the majority of the exhibitors at the USA Pavilion were small U.S. companies. 

Among the SIAL Canada participants were the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets (VAAFM), and six Vermont food companies that produce products including artisan cheeses, croutons, jams, jellies, dips, sauces, specialty packaged maple syrups and premium spaghetti sauces. Although many of the companies are located less than an hour away from the Canadian border, few had previously considered exporting their products to Canada. 

With the direct help of Food Export USA-Northeast, the VAAFM was able to attract 25 companies to an export seminar in December 2011 that provided information on transportation, logistics and regulatory procedures for getting U.S. products into Canada. In addition, a representative from SIAL Canada briefed seminar participants about the show and the opportunities for Vermont food companies. 

Once armed with this information, six companies signed on for SIAL Canada 2012. Most of the companies augmented their efforts at the show by signing up for Food Export USA-Northeast’s Food Show PLUS! service. Through this service, the SRTG arranged one-on-one meetings between the exhibitors and potential Canadian brokers and distributors at the show. In addition, they provided French interpreters, customized competitive product analysis, on-site support, retail tours in Montreal and, finally, assistance following up with Canadian buyers.

At the show, U.S. exhibitors also attended a market briefing, sponsored by FAS Canada and Food Export USA-Northeast, that provided an overview of the market in Canada and addressed labeling and other issues affecting U.S. exporters. 

“We could not have gotten to SIAL Canada without the help of Food Export USA-Northeast and the Foreign Agricultural Service,” said Chelsea Bardot Lewis, VAAFM senior agricultural development coordinator.

The results for the Vermont companies, primarily small food enterprises, were promising. The companies reported almost a quarter of a million dollars in projected sales for the coming year, as well as 91 qualified contacts made at the show. 

SIAL Canada, one of approximately 30 trade shows USDA endorses annually, alternates between Montreal and Toronto.