American food and agricultural products are prized throughout the world. The quality, consistency, and availability of food from the U.S.A. has led people to call the American Midwest the world’s breadbasket, the American South the world’s chicken bucket and Florida and the American West the world’s fruit bowl.
Yet, the truth is that Americans could do a much better job selling American products out of the U.S.A., and overseas buyers could be greeted with an even broader array of products that are currently available. After all, the U.S.A. is a true cornucopia when it comes to food production. It is a land blessed with a broad variety of growing areas and climatic conditions, extraordinary technical sophistication to develop these natural resources and a population gathered from all corners of the globe, thus encompassing food production of all kinds to meet a wide variety of tastes.
So what’s the problem? It is cultural really. Americans do not grow up thinking of export in the way people do in many other countries. To some extent, business people in the U.S.A. are spoiled. With the largest domestic market in the world, business people are apt to have so much opportunity domestically that they tend to stick to what they know. The thought of getting involved in new countries and learning new rules, new laws, etc., is intimidating.
Contrast this with a small country such as the Netherlands or a natural resource-poor country like Japan and the difference is dramatic. The Dutchman knows that he is a citizen of a very small country, and the prospect of reaching much larger markets, through export, is not only immediately appealing but a virtual necessity. The Japanese business person knows that his country must purchase large amounts of natural resources overseas and so must export to raise the funds to buy these precious resources.
The good news is that American business people are starting to look at export more aggressively. A combination of recent immigrants from Asia and Latin America – who see a competitive edge for themselves in working with their homelands – and the competitive necessity of utilizing factories at their capacity to keep costs down, compounded by intensive competition within the U.S.A. – and more, has led to increasing awareness of export opportunities.
There are still plenty of problems though. Too many U.S. exporters still view foreign markets as “dumping grounds” for whatever they can’t sell in the U.S. Others will drop a country immediately if another market offers a higher price. Still, others are scared of the prospect of collecting money from outside the U.S.A.
But, principally, it is a problem of attitude. For example, industry members in the produce trade in a country such as, say, Chile, know that they have no choice but to export their product. The domestic market is simply too small. They will, in fact, loathe to give up any market, even if sale prices are depressed in a particular country one year or season because they know they will need that market next year. So the tendency is to send product on a consignment basis, with the bulk of the crop distributed according to long-established historical patterns and only a minority being shifted based on current prices.
To U.S. producers, with the luxury of a large domestic market, this kind of program is anathema. Americans generally want to sell on a firm price basis to the market bidding highest. Though profitable in the short term, this can be destructive in terms of long-term market development.
Of course, attitudes toward export change dramatically once export starts to be a big share of the total business.
The U.S. also has many “want-to-be” exporters. These are folks who, when asked if they want to list themselves in a free directory, say “why not?” The only problem is these folks have no experience in exporting.
Now everyone has a first time at everything, and I often encourage U.S. firms to get involved in exporting food and agricultural products. It is, however, a serious undertaking and should not be undertaken frivolously.
This is why we are so proud of our 8th Annual Directory of American Food and Agricultural Exporters. It is the largest directory we’ve ever published and the largest of its type in the world, but, more important, we’ve kept growing while maintaining our very high standards.
You see, this directory is a paid directory. We’re very proud of that fact. Because it means that every listed company has shown, in a tangible way, that they are serious about exporting, this is a directory of export pros.
Barely a day passes that I do not receive some letter, a fax or e-mail asking for sources on American food and agricultural products. All of us here at American food and ag exporter magazine are always happy to help.
But American food and ag exporter magazine – and this directory issue – are the place to start.
Yes, by and large, Americans are a bit hesitant when it comes to exporting. But not all Americans; some, in fact, are way ahead of the curve. Those are the people you meet in the pages of this magazine, and, really, aren’t those the type of people you’d like to be doing business with?