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Topic 5: International Marketing Activities

The AgExport Services Division of the USDA, Foreign Agricultural Service
AgExporter Assistance
Trade Shows and Missions

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This section reviews some of the marketing options available when working with the various export assistance providers. There are three main goals of this section. The first is for exporters to realize that marketing opportunities should be used in an integrated fashion on an annual basis, and not just as stand-alone, one-time activities.

Secondly, many promotions and activities are carried out in partnership between two or more organizations. During the course of working with export assistance providers, you may find that various groups work together on the same project.

Finally, and most importantly, when participating in a marketing activity, keep in mind that proper preparation and follow-up is crucial to the overall success of the activity. Your company’s “export readiness” comes into play as well, since executing transactions requires ample knowledge of the export processes and procedures.

Success in exporting comes from a combination of efforts. Each activity described here may serve to supplement another. For example, applying for Branded Program funding requires a company to develop a marketing plan. Developing a market plan provides a perfect opportunity to schedule other supporting activities for the program year.

The AgExport Services Division of the USDA, Foreign Agricultural Service
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The USDA, Foreign Agricultural Service offers many programs and services to exporters of food and agricultural products and to those interested in learning more about exporting opportunities. USDA, Foreign Agricultural Service and their overseas offices have been mentioned in earlier sections as an excellent source of secondary market research.

AgExport: The AgExport Services Division of the USDA, Foreign Agricultural Service is an excellent contact for initiating the search for foreign buyers. It has AgExport Action kits which include information on many services: sales leads from foreign buyers, free advertising for your product overseas, lists of foreign buyers of food and agricultural products, assistance in presenting your products at international trade shows and many ore services.

The AgExport Services Division is responsible for export marketing activities in the United States as well as overseas. They work closely with the Agricultural Trade Offices (ATOs) around the world. Their main focus is “AgConnections” which is an internet-based tool for export marketing. They also focus on programs related to trade shows and missions.

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AgConnections provides a way for exporters of food and agricultural products to locate overseas buyers, U.S. suppliers and distributors as well as export assistance agencies and service providers. In this area, you will find valuable information on:
  • U.S. Supplier Lists
  • Foreign Buyer Lists
  • Export Directory of U.S. Food Distribution Companies
  • AgExport Contacts and Trade Assistance Centers

U.S. Supplier List

The U.S. Supplier List is a searchable database of over 3,800 U.S. exporters and their products used by USDA, Foreign Agricultural Service to help facilitate connecting potential buyers with U.S. suppliers. It is a good way for a producer of food and agricultural products to advertise their company to a worldwide audience. It also may be a valuable tool for those exporters seeking suppliers to fill export orders of products, if the company is not a producer of goods.

It contains over 500 product categories for companies to include in their listing. Over 80 USDA, Foreign Agricultural Service Overseas and Washington offices use the database to help export agents, trading companies, importers and foreign buyers to locate U.S. suppliers. It is also used to recruit U.S. exporters to participate in market development activities sponsored by USDA and federal export programs. Participating companies will receive e-mail requests for quotes in bid form as they come in from abroad or within the United States.

Click here to access the search engine.

The FAS Foreign Buyers List

This service offers information on over 25,000 foreign buyers of food, farm, fish, seafood and forest products in more than 80 countries. The Foreign Buyers List provides important information on each firm such as contact person, address, telephone, fax, and type of product imported.

To order, complete the Foreign Buyers List order form. Select the product and country list(s) you want from the product code and country lists on pages 3-4. Then legibly print or type the code and description for each product and country list in the space provided on the second page of the form. For more information on the Foreign Buyers List click here.

Export Directory of U.S. Food Distribution Companies

This service might help both single line producers as well as export intermediaries, although in different ways. It is a searchable database of U.S. Food Distribution companies, which in most cases are export brokers, traders or export management companies that are not actually producers of products. The qualifying requirement for entry is the ability to supply “mixed containers” of grocery and/or food service products to foreign buyers.

This database is designed to help importers find exporters who have access to a large variety of products. It has been referred to in earlier sections as a “consolidation” of cargos, which can be performed by international freight forwarders for individual importers and who “assemble” multiple vendor shipments at the point of export.

In this case, the list is of companies who already represent U.S. suppliers or have access to a number of producers. They might in turn use the services of an international freight forwarder to provide them with logistical services on their behalf. If your company is in the export intermediary or freight consolidation business, you could gain extra business by registering in this database.

This service may also be of value to the small or medium-sized exporter of value-added food products. The database can be sorted by geographic region, product and industry or by value- added services such as labeling and marketing.

The companies in this database provide representation for producers of food products. They might possibly be interested in contact from new suppliers, whether grocery or foodservice, in order to offer their clients a wider variety of products. They might also be interested in filling up their containers with more cargo bound for their buyer’s country, even if being consigned to another importer. So they could serve as a carrier for less than container load shipments and provide a logistics solution for exporters with smaller sized shipments.

For the information sheet and searchable database, click here.

AgExporter Assistance
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AgExport Service’s main resource is within the USDA, Foreign Agricultural Service website ( where you will find the main portal to many of the resources that are reviewed in these sections. The gateway to most FAS resources is available at the AgExporter Assistance page. It includes:

  • Export Basics
  • Partners and Trade Leads
  • Market Research
  • Counseling and Advocacy
  • Trade Events
  • Export Programs
  • Export Finance
  • Export Certificates
  • Shipping Requirements and Documentation
  • Pricing, Quotes and Negotiations

To access the Exporter Assistance page click here.

Trade Shows and Missions
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International Trade Shows

The U.S. Department of Agriculture sponsors over 30 major international trade shows annually. The USDA, Foreign Agricultural Service plays an active role in recruitment and coordination in the U.S. and overseas. These shows offer exporters the opportunity to meet potential buyers face-to-face. FAS staff know how critical meeting the customer can be to making the sale, and make every effort to ensure the U.S. food exporter’s success. They have coverage in all of the established and emerging food markets around the world.

At the show, the USA banner draws crowds because it is a world-recognized sign of high-quality and innovative foods that are fresh, flavorful and fun. The broad range of products stimulates buyers’ interest and expands their knowledge of what is available. A participating company can expect a full-service booth with electric hook-up and a business lounge. Participants also receive marketing services, including country and buyer reports and sometimes public relations help.

To access the searchable databases of scheduled marketing events supported by the USDA, Foreign Agricultural Service, click here.

The USDA, Foreign Agricultural Service and SRTGs organize activities to bring buyers and sellers together. Trade missions personalize business relationships by introducing potential trade partners. Outgoing sales missions shorten the time it takes to learn about another market. Participants learn first-hand by hearing market briefings, visiting sales channels and attending one-on-one meetings with qualified buyers. Interpreters are also provided when needed.

Buyers Missions (also called reverse trade missions) bring foreign buyers into the United States to introduce them to the wide variety of high-quality agricultural products available here. Both types of missions offer the U.S. exporter a great way to make contacts quickly and cost-effectively. The USDA, Agricultural Foreign Service and SRTGs as well as individual State Departments of Agriculture co-manage many of these events.

American Café

The American Café is a special area within the USA Pavilion where you can display and highlight your products at international shows, without the expenses associated with a full booth. Your sample products will be prepared and distributed to potential importers by USDA overseas or Trade Show Office Staff. We will send you feedback and leads immediately after the show, providing you with the opportunity to follow up with potential buyers or importers.

American Café serves as a low-cost option for small food companies to participate in the USA Pavilion at trade shows. It allows companies to send products for a minimal cost and receive new market exposure. The companies also receive “mini-market research”, and trade lead forms are provided by your company or the USDA, Foreign Agricultural Service (upon request) and are filled out by potential importers and buyers that sample your product. After the show, the USDA, Foreign Agricultural Service returns these forms to your company.

American Café fees range from $350 to $500. Companies also spend about $300-500 on shipping samples and promotional materials to the show site. In some cases, they also send a local/ regional representative to present the products in the American Café and this will add travel, hotel and miscellaneous expenses (like translation). Total cost spent on a café by participants would be between $500 and $1,000. As indicated earlier in the section, many of these promotions are held in mutual support of each other and offer valuable options for the exporting firm.

When Meeting a Buyer

Preparation for an event is crucial as buyers have limited time to spend with you and will be approached by dozens of other companies on their visit. Buyers are often very interested in developing business relationships with smaller, more innovative companies and growing the business with them over time. They like to meet with decision makers and will consider your ability to be flexible on price, packaging and labeling, among other things in order to develop the business.

To Go or Not to Go

Many preparations for a Trade Mission are similar to those of a Buyers Mission. Before deciding whether or not to attend, it is a good idea to determine the market potential for your products. You could obtain a copy of the “Top 25” market reports for your products and evaluate where the destination market ranks, as well as growth or decline in the market. You could also obtain market and product specific reports that may explain the export opportunities and recent developments. This is valuable secondary information, and while it may not answer every question, can help you understand why you have been invited and educate you about the market.

Your preparation should include the proper shipment of samples according to the mission organizer’s direction, as well as complete product information and an export pricing list at competitive wholesale prices to start. You should begin with a factory price and provide an accurate set of metric weights and measures of your products. All company materials, including business cards, should be easy to understand and include both your e-mail and website address.

Any promotional goodwill, such as charitable contributions, sponsorships, awards from the business and local community are helpful. One of the most subtle yet most important aspects of preparation is studying the business cultures of the country and preparing for behavioral patterns that may be different from your own. Finally, as with all trade promotional events, timely and accurate follow up in a business-friendly manner is one of the keys to success in international trade.

Follow up is Crucial after Trade Events

Based on importer and distributor comments, there are two main reasons why U.S. companies are not successful in developing trade relationships from marketing activities – delays in responding to trade inquiries and ineffective correspondence.

There is no doubt that spending a day or two away from the office can add to the pressure of attending to other business affairs. Preparation time for an activity can place more of a strain on your resources. However, to make your efforts worthwhile, it is crucial to follow up with buyers in a timely and professional manner. Remember, a buyer probably met with dozens of other firms at the event as well. Other suppliers may have similar products to yours, and as with all customers, the most attentive, supportive and informative supplier usually gets the business.

So what’s the next step?

For more detailed exporting information relative to your specific business please register for our Food Export Helpline™ service. There are always specific issues and questions that are unique to your company, products, and export markets. With the Food Export Helpline™, you’ll speak with an industry expert who’ll put his more than 20 years of experience to work for you. There are no canned answers, only insightful, customized advice specifically for you.
Click here for the Food Export Helpline.

Or, register for our Market Builder program. This service provides customized, in-market research to help you determine if a market is right for your product. Exporters can find new distributors or importers, receive valuable feedback about their product and gain industry insights on topics such as the distribution process and import regulations and restrictions for 18 international markets.

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