STATES CAPITALIZE ON STRENGTHS WHILE MARKETING AG PRODUCTS OVERSEAS
by Linda L. Leake, Contributing Editor
If I drink California wine, I’ll look like George Clooney." "If I eat California artichokes, I’ll look like Pamela Anderson." Crazy as those statements might sound, they reflect the mindsets of many foreign men and women who succumb to the influence of American TV shows and movies, says Fred Klose, acting director of the agricultural export program for the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), Sacramento, Calif.
"Hollywood has been exporting California to the world since the first movie was made here in 1911, so we take advantage of that name recognition in marketing our agricultural products," Klose says.
California formalized its international ag products marketing program in 1986 with the passage of legislation for funding. Currently, just three trade specialists, three support employees and a few seasonal workers handle CDFA marketing endeavors that garnered farm gate receipts totaling $25 billion in 1999.
For more than 50 years, California has been first in the nation in agricultural diversity, currently producing some 350 different commercial ag products. Replacing France in total economic activity, California recently moved up as fifth largest economy in the world.
The key foreign ag markets for California products are Canada and Japan, which account for 50 percent of its exports and $1 billion in annual sales. Mexico ranks third with $281 million in annual sales. The European markets - including the United Kingdom, Germany, Netherlands, and Spain - collectively account for $706 million and round out California’s top four ag export customers.
"We have about 89,000 farms, but the CDFA deals directly with less than 25 percent of our farmers," Klose mentions. "The vast majority of California’s ag marketers are dealers, processors and packers."
The CDFA uses most of its $500,000 annual international marketing budget to participate in key trade shows around the world. "We play off companies’ ‘Californianess,’" Klose emphasizes.
"Mention California and most people in other countries conjure Bay Watch fantasies of beautiful people with blond hair, suntans and surfboards, Klose asserts. "About five years ago the CDFA implemented the slogan "Taste the Sunshine" which is used exclusively for our international marketing efforts. We believe that slogan is the perfect tool to fuel those fantasies and get more bang for our marketing buck."
If you should visit the most expensive restaurant in Warsaw, Poland, anytime soon, don’t be surprised to find an all-American entrée on the menu - beef brisket. This culinary delight is courtesy of efforts by the Texas Beef Council in partnership with the U.S. Meat Export Federation and the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA).
This Poland initiative began in March 2000 when a small Texas marketing contingent visited the country famous for its sausage. With the help of interpreters, the group held seminars for some 300 Polish chefs, demonstrating how to use certain cuts of beef in Texas-style dishes like fajitas and brisket.
The Council offset the cost for the project through a matching fund grant from the TDA’s GO TEXAN Partner Program, a matching fund program developed to support promotional projects to increase markets for Texas agricultural products.
The program is part of the GO TEXAN campaign, a unified marketing initiative launched in 1999 under the leadership of Texas Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs to raise the profile of products grown and processed in Texas.
"Texas has its own unique appeal," says Delane Caesar, TDA’s assistant commissioner for marketing and promotion. "GO TEXAN builds on that recognition by identifying and spotlighting Texas products. It works internationally because Texas has such a strong identity."
Texas ranks second nationwide in agricultural production, generally ranks between third and sixth in U.S. ag exports, and enjoys annual farm gate receipts of $14 billion.
Beef cattle are the leading Texas ag commodity, and while it may be a new concept to enjoy beef brisket in Poland, it’s no surprise that Mexico is the Lone Star State’s top beef cattle customer.
Currently, Mexico and Canada remain the key customers for Texas ag products, including commodities like grain, fiber and horses, as well as gourmet items like barbecue sauce and mesquite jelly. The Caribbean and Latin America are among the state’s developing export markets.
"Worldwide, we are also pursuing ag export opportunities in the hotel, restaurant and institutional sectors," adds Nishi Whiteley, TDA’s director for international marketing.
Texas products are an easy sell because of the Texas mystique that prevails throughout the world, Caesar and Whiteley concur. "When traveling abroad, people from our state don’t often say ‘We’re from the United States,’" Whiteley says. "Rather, they say ‘We’re from Texas!’"
ROCKY MOUNTAIN MARKETING HIGHS
For several years Colorado’s livestock producers have been actively working to increase their sales of breeding stock to ranchers in Mexico. This effort has included attending livestock shows and participating in trade missions in Mexico with the Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA), Lakewood, Colo., as well as helping to host reverse trade missions to Colorado for Mexican ranchers. In 1998, Colorado livestock producers - assisted by the CDA - formed a cooperative to expand livestock trade with Mexico.
Now 18 breeders strong, the Colorado Cattle Trade Co-op is the only U.S. co-op that’s been created to export beef genetics, including live animals, embryos and semen. In 2001, Joel and Linda Shoeneman of the 5 M Charolais Ranch, Roggen, Colo., and charter members of the Co-op, won the Colorado Governor’s Award for excellence in exports in the agricultural sector.
"Co-op members now attend Mexican trade shows once or twice each year, and they invite Mexican cattle producers to visit their farms," says Tim Larsen, senior international marketing specialist with the CDA. "The breeders also produce videos of their farms and cattle, and they have even published a Spanish/English dictionary of cattle industry terms."
Annual cash receipts for Colorado food and agricultural products total about $15 billion, with some $4.5 from farms and ranches and the remainder from the state’s food processing industry, which includes Coors, Cargill, and Con-Agra, Larsen says.
"But there are federal export marketing funds available to every farmer in every state, regardless of the size of his or her operation," Larsen points out. "The USDA Foreign Agricultural Service provides some $90 million to 20 to 30 cooperators, which are regional and commodity groups that pool efforts and resources."
Colorado belongs to the cooperator called Western United States Agricultural Trade Association, which splits an annual $6.15 million matching funds purse for generic and branded marketing programs.
The CDA is focusing its 2001 efforts on marketing organic and natural foods to Canada and Europe, food ingredients to Japan and Europe, retail foods and snacks to Mexico and China, and food service commodities to Japan, Mexico and Canada.
To that end, the CDA sponsors a number of programs including "How to Export" seminars for any of the state’s 25,000 farmers who care to participate.
"About five years ago, a sunflower producer based in Fort Morgan, Colo., came to one of our seminars not knowing anything about exporting," Larsen says. "Today, approximately 35 percent of all the raw sunflower seeds exported from the U.S. to mainland China - 1,000 tons annually - comes from that producer."
BUILDING NEW ROADS
From alligators to zucchini, some 240 commodities accounting for $7 billion at the farm gate carry the "Fresh From Florida" marketing logo developed in 1990 by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), Tallahassee, Fla.
"Our biggest challenges in international marketing are trade barriers and they must be mediated to enable shipments of Florida goods into respective offshore markets," says Ted Helms, bureau chief of development and information for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) Division of Marketing and Development.
"We are developing a market in China for our citrus fruits, for example, but first we must create an awareness of the product," Helms points out. "Distribution of perishables presents another problem in shipping to far away markets."
Florida has a great success story relative to developing new markets. As recently as four years ago, sweet corn was virtually unknown in Great Britain. In 1997, the FDACS used federal funds to promote sweet corn along with other commodities, such as sweet potatoes and blue berries, in that country. Those promotions sparked demand. In 2000, Florida shipped no less than 1,000 tons of sweet corn to England for distribution through three major grocery store chains.
"The British didn’t know anything about our sweet corn until we took some to England, so you could say we cut a road where previously no passage way existed," Helms quips.
MOOVING PRODUCTS OVERSEAS
You don’t have to be a Cheesehead to realize that, thanks to its longstanding reputation as America’s Dairyland, Wisconsin enjoys great demand for its agricultural commodities worldwide.
The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection’s (DATCP) International AgriBusiness Center, Madison, Wis., focuses on key marketing areas that include such products as dairy and livestock genetics, dairy products, feed and grains, farm equipment, and a large variety of processed and specialty foods/commodities.
With Wisconsin’s reputation as a forerunner in agricultural biotechnology and research, DATCP marketing staff have another competitive advantage in touting the state’s benefits with international buyers. "We receive numerous requests for information about cattle cloning, transgenic milk and other developing technologies," says Jayne Krull, DATCP’s marketing consultant for dairy genetics.
The World Dairy Expo is undeniably the Wisconsin dairy industry’s greatest marketing tool. Held in Madison, Wis., each year since 1967, Expo brings some 3,500 international visitors to the state from more than 70 countries.
Throughout the year, Wisconsin markets dairy genetics to about 20 countries, accounting for about 50 percent of U.S. dairy genetics exports, and garnering annual revenues of $40 million. The state’s top customers for live animals are Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Japan and France, while its leading semen purchasers are Germany, Canada, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina.
"With diminishing state dollars available for marketing, we are more aggressive in leveraging federal dollars to conduct foreign market development and promotion activities," Krull says.
A recent DATCP initiative resulted in the agency receiving more than $67,000 from USDA to work with the University of Wisconsin-Madison to develop emerging dairy markets in Guatamala and El Salvador, by conducting training workshops for influential dairy producers in these two regions.
"NOTHIN’ COULD BE FINER…"
From the mountains to the sea, North Carolina ranks third nationally in agricultural diversity, which includes traditional farm products, forestry products and seafood, according to Britt Cobb, director of international marketing for the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDACS), Raleigh, N.C.
"Canada accounts for 90 percent of our produce export market, followed by Europe and Asia, while Japan buys 40 percent of our seafood," Cobb relates. "Over the past ten years, the top three importers of all North Carolina ag products have been Canada, Mexico and Japan."
An increasing amount of the $3 billion annual Tarheel export purse is garnered by diversified farmers with small and medium size operations, many of whom are transitioning out of tobacco production. These individuals market the gamut from apples and ginseng to zucchini, and have benefited greatly from NCDACS educational programs offered free of charge to producers with ag operations of all sizes.
"We help our producers with all aspects of the export process, including market research, contacting and hosting buyers, transportation arrangements and dealing with bankers," Cobb elaborates. "Our most important job is to educate North Carolina agribusinesses that, even in light of trade barriers and phytosanitary issues abroad, there is a bigger market available than just North Carolina or the Southeast."
Without state export programs, smaller farms would not have great opportunities to survive and grow, Cobb says. "The NCDACS has the resources to organize marketing initiatives collectively that small- and medium-size farms could not handle individually," he points out. "With our encouragement and resources, many of these smaller producers have achieved great success."
"Aside from its major export customers, the NCDACS has gone to out of the way places like Indonesia and Moldova to find markets, and is hoping for opportunities to pursue untapped markets in the years ahead, especially China, Cuba and the Caribbean.
"The future of American agriculture is in the international marketplace," Cobb believes. "Farmers in this country are more efficient and producing greater quantities of food than ever before, but most Americans aren’t going to start eating four meals a day. Producers and companies that will grow, increase sales and survive in the years ahead will be those that market their products overseas." AM
Linda Leake is a freelance journalist covering the agriculture industry from her home base in Wilmington, N.C.