COLOGNE, Germany (FNS) -- Despite a variety of obstacles, U.S. food manufacturers are determined to crack the European food market, said exhibitors at the Anuga World Food Market here.
The toughest products to export remain beef, poultry, pork and dairy-based lines. These categories continue to be the most protected by tariff barriers, especially in the European Union, exhibitors said.
"We still face tremendous trade and access problems in Europe. They're almost ongoing and never-ending," said Mark A. Gustafson, senior vice president of sales and marketing at ConAgra Refrigerated Foods, which was formed earlier this year to draw together all the company's operations in beef, poultry, pork and dairy products to better enable it to attack export markets.
Gustafson said the company's strategy now is to offer a broad range of products so that when one category is blocked by tariffs or faces weak demand, it can get business in another. ConAgra recognizes that exporting will be a long-term proposition, especially in Europe, but believes it's vital to remain committed to the European market because some of its regulations eventually may be adopted by other countries.
"If we want to be a major global player we simply can't ignore a major trading bloc like the EU," Gustafson said. Currently ConAgra's largest export markets include Russia and the Pacific Rim, where the company believes its greatest potential lies because of the region's huge growth in population. And while exporting U.S. milk is almost a nonstarter, especially in Europe, there are business opportunities developing for other dairy products.
Export Dairy Inc., Alexandria, Va., was offering products from four dairy cooperatives in Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont and Massachusetts at Anuga and had received inquiries from Cyprus, Greece, Egypt and Israel for such products as nonfat dry milk, organic dairy lines and cheeses.
Cabot Farms, one of its members, recently sold 1 million pounds of extra sharp cheddar cheese to the United Kingdom as well, said Robert J. Gray, Export Dairy's executive director.
But even apparently easy products to export can face barriers. Keebler was showing its Keebler and Sunshine cookies and crackers at Anuga for the first time as part of a stepped-up program to build export sales. Daniel S. Ariagno of the company's international business development team said he had received good interest from the Middle East, Far East and Central and South America as well as some interest from European food retailers. "Europe has its challenges, though," he said. "We'll eventually get success in this market but it will be hard. You try to begin exporting and then suddenly you realize Europe has a sugar tax, a milk-fat content tax and on and on. It seems to have a tax on everything." Manufacturers who had exhibited at Anuga in the past admitted that dealing with export markets requires growing sophistication in terms of labeling, product information and simply how to position their products. Ocean Spray, for example, was showing at Anuga for the third time but this year had its largest-ever presence with both its juices and its raw cranberries.
Ron Chevrier, business operations manager at the company's ingredient technology group, said Ocean Spray recognizes the long-term importance of export markets since the supply of fruit in the United States now exceeds demand. As a result, it is stepping up its export sales on both the raw fruit and juice sides, and is also linking with retailers and food manufacturers in overseas markets to boost the use of cranberries as an ingredient in such things as food bars. Its fastest-growing overseas markets are Australia, New Zealand and Taiwan, he said, while its most-developed include the United Kingdom, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany.
The overall key to developing exports, both retailers and manufacturers agreed, is to think long-term and recognize that what works in the United States might not work overseas. Cheryl Druker Samet, chief executive of U.S. food exporter Transamerican Brokers, Maple Glen, Pa., pointed out that all its shipments into Europe have to be repalletized to meet European standards, which is why it has offices and distribution centers in France and Germany. Payment schedules also differ between the United States and Europe, as do package sizes because they are in grams rather than ounces. Transamerican's European retail customers include such firms as Carrefour of France and Rewe of Germany.
"Too many American companies simply try to export when the domestic market turns bad," said Rodney D. Schnurr, vice president of Snyder's, Hanover, Pa. "All they're interested in is hitting sales targets. You have to be in overseas markets for the long haul and be focused on strategic markets."
Snack foods generally were a dominant feature of the U.S. pavilion at the show, including tortilla chips, popcorn, ice cream, pretzels, cookies and candies. There also were a large number of companies exhibiting nuts, seeds, pulses and rice as well as state contingents from Pennsylvania, North Carolina, California, Florida, Georgia and Illinois.