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Food Export Blog

An Inside Look at Food Export’s Buyer Nomination Process

by Sarah Larson | Apr 17, 2019

We often get questions about how the international buyers who attend our Buyers Missions and Focused Trade Missions are selected.

So we wanted to give you an inside look at the extensive search and vetting process that goes into making each one of our 20+ Buyers Missions and 10+ Focused Trade Missions that take place each program year a success for our suppliers. Below we will walk you through the process of nominating, screening, and selecting buyers for our events.

Program Year Opens

The Food Export Activity Calendar is released and activities are opened for registration on the website every year on August 1st for the upcoming program year.

This is when our network of In-Market Representatives (IMR’s) around the world receive the official Activity Calendar for the upcoming program year and will know all of the Buyers Missions and Focused Trade Missions that we will be conducting.  Our IMR’s are a network of local marketing experts with food industry trade experience who provide on-the-ground help in assisting Food Export-Midwest and Food Export-Northeast to implement its program of work.  They know their country’s food and grocery industry better than anyone and they have close and long lasting relationships with many buyers throughout the different market segments that Food Export works with.

Activity Calendar 2019

After receiving the Activity Calendar our IMR’s will start nominating buyers from their specific countries to be considered for the various Food Export Buyers Missions.  The ideal buyer that we look for is typically from an established company with a good track record that is eager for new direct sales relationships to be built with U.S. suppliers. Once nominations are submitted the Food Export International Marketing Program team will sort through and start vetting all of the nominations. 

They make sure all the information is complete and clear and that the buyer’s English language skills are good to allow smooth facilitation of meetings.  Most importantly, the team looks for a buyer that is a good fit for the particular mission in terms of type of operation, products of interest, and past success in importing US products.  If a buyer has been on a mission previously, we assure that they’ve made purchases as a result from the mission before inviting them to return to another mission. 

The process is aimed at bringing the best possible combination of markets and buyers to each event and weeding out any mismatches long before you have the chance to select to meet with them.

Buyers Mission

Buyers Mission

As you may know a Food Export Buyers Mission is an event where we sponsor a group of buyers from countries around the world and fly them to the U.S. to meet one-on-one with interested U.S. suppliers in short 20 minute rotating meetings.  Most of these missions are organized around major U.S. tradeshows to best facilitate good matches between suppliers and buyers in a particular market segment.

Depending on the mission, we can invite anywhere from 5 – 20 buyers. Food Export starts the buyer selection process early so as to make necessary logistical arrangements and also to give early notice to suppliers about which countries will be represented. Once the list of buyers attending a Buyers Mission is finalized we begin the In-Market Representatives for their respective regions are tasked with preparing the buyers in advance and communicating Food Export’s expectations for their full participation in the mission. 

Once a buyer is thoroughly vetted by the International Marketing Program team and offered the opportunity to travel to the U.S., they have to agree to certain conditions and expectations as part of their sponsored trip.  We pay for a portion of their travel expenses as part of our sponsorship, while they agree to cover the rest.  They also  agree to an itinerary and timeline including, a retail tour, one-on-one meetings from 8 am to 5 pm, and when the event is at a trade show, they are given the opportunity to walk the trade show floor.  This is designed to give them the most focused and educational experience as possible so they are better prepared to do business with U.S. suppliers.

Buyer Meeting 1 - PHL

After the Buyers Mission is over the buyers may stay and attend the trade show or head back to their home country. Since Food Export is sponsoring their trip, their arrival and departure dates align with their agreed upon responsibilities for the Buyers Mission and once the mission and show are over they head home directly.  It is important to remember that at this point they have been out of the office for an extended period of time.  For example, buyers that participate in our Northeast Buyers Mission and Midwest Buyers Mission will go to 3 separate cities with travel days in between, it can often be a full week and a half that they are out of the office from start to finish.  When they return they typically have a lot to catch up on.  Any perception that buyers are “on vacation” is not accurate.

Living in 2019 some of their work can be done remotely on the road, but with travel time, jet lag, and the difference in time zones it can be very challenging for them to catch up after an event.  This means your feedback or initial correspondence with them may take some time.

Focused Trade Missions

Now let’s talk about a Focused Trade Mission (FTM).  A Focused Trade Mission is a chance for a U.S. supplier to travel to an international market and experience total market immersion for their product and brand while meeting one-on-one with local buyers on their home turf.

These buyers are also thoroughly vetted in an extensive selection process prior to being approved for meetings with U.S. suppliers.  Unlike a Buyers Mission these buyers are usually selected after the companies participating in the mission register. Buyers are selected based on the types of products that suppliers have available (this is where the information you provide to Food Export to build your profiles is so important).  As you can imagine it is a much easier process to have buyers travel to meetings in their own country than it is to sponsor them to travel across an ocean for a Buyers Mission. So we often have a wide array of available buyers for a Focused Trade Mission.

South Korea - Meetings 2

Many FTM’s have a networking lunch or reception component built in so that buyers and suppliers can get to know one another on a more friendly level while doing business.

Follow Up with Buyers


We have heard from both suppliers and buyers that they have a great meeting with each other either at a Buyers Mission or Focused Trade Mission and then when they reach out later after the event to follow up, they end up never getting a response from the other party. There are plenty of logical explanations for this, email going to spam, something comes up and they forget to follow up, business emergencies, etc.  But if you have reached out more than once and still have not heard back, please let us know. We can help.

Seafood Expo - Buyers Mission - Registration Table

Food Export staff and Activity Coordinators have been in contact with the buyers and suppliers since before the events and can help the two of you connect.

Sometimes there can be a cultural difference causing the lack of communication, like an error that you made in an email that needs to be addressed.  Or they simply aren’t interested in your product but are not comfortable saying no, so they say nothing at all. There are many logical explanations, let us help you get to the bottom of the situation. We can’t help unless we know about the problem.  The sooner you tell us the better. 

It is also important to remember that international sales take time. If you meet an interested buyer at trade show it could take a while to get the export sales up and running.

Food Export’s Buyers Missions and Focused Trade Missions are great tools for U.S. suppliers looking to meet with international buyers and get results.  We collect evaluations from all participants at these events so we can continue to improve our programs and help facilitate more interactions and sales between suppliers and buyers!