Spring, 2007

From the Editor

Brands Of All Kinds

Branding in the food business runs the gamut from multinational giants, such as Coca-Cola, to small brands that can be known in one city. There are trade brands and consumer brands; private label is another type of brand.

And brands can serve a variety of purposes. Sometimes they are steeped in heritage, and sometimes they are created to facilitate a specific purpose. In my early days in the export trade, I used to export a large amount of Ruby Red grapefruit to Europe and, especially, to France.

We had several clients that sold the imported grapefruit on the Rungis Market in France, and they each needed a different brand to differentiate their offer from each other. So we developed several different labels and made sure each client’s needs were packed in the label his customers had gotten used to.

Of course, some would say what we did wasn’t branding at all. The product was undifferentiated and there was no marketing support. Yet, I think one shouldn’t leap to such a hasty conclusion.

What we really did was give each one of our Rungis Market customers a private label — and they added value through their promotion of the brand in France. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but it gave them a lot of work to do.

One of the great things about American consumer brands is that because of the ubiquity of American culture, many of these brands have instant recognition around the world. So, quite intelligently, many importers piggyback on that recognition.

But on many agricultural commodities, where they come from is a brand all unto itself. Think California, think Florida — just mention the words and visions of sunshine come to mind. So items such as Florida grapefruit and California avocados, table grapes and stone fruit resonate with a ready-made brand just because of where they come from.

Another popular source for brands has become restaurants chains. Although individual restaurants have always developed branded versions of their specialties, both to serve their restaurant patrons more frequently and to reach out beyond the local area, today major restaurant chains are becoming a big source of national brands: White Castle, T.G.I. Fridays, Boston Market and others are selling in the grocery, frozen food and refrigerated sections of supermarkets.

Many of these restaurants have outlets around the world, and these products will find a waiting and enthusiastic audience in many countries.

Some brands are specialty items. The American Food And Ag Exporter headquarters is located in an area of Florida with many residents who have moved from the New York City area. There are stores and web sites that sell New York regional brands to the local population.

Equally, prospective buyers of U.S. products should be aware that it is not necessary to buy all these items in straight trailer loads. Many manufacturers will deal directly in smaller quantities and, even if they won’t, the United States is filled with exporters well able to consolidate loads and sell even single boxes of individual items.

It is very common, for example, for wholesale grocers and exporters to supply an individual supermarket by shipping a mixed trailer composed of different branded items. Sometimes importers use one vendor for dry groceries, another for frozen foods and a third for refrigerated products.

If they are buying in sufficient quantities, some importers like to buy direct from producers and then use a consolidator to handle receiving, storage, loading and delivery into a port or airport. And, of course, many buy direct from producers and either arrange shipping themselves or have the vendor do that.

It can be done many ways. The important thing is to take advantage of all the opportunities America offers.

Because of America’s ethnic diversity, there is basically no kind of food that cannot be purchased in the U.S. — we have producers of every type of cuisine. We have organic, conventional, GMO-free and more.

Because of America’s vast scale and substantial and affluent population, you can buy vast quantities on short notice. If you call Yakima or Wenatchee in the state of Washington, you can have a hundred trailers of apples — all perfectly packed and graded, rolling that very same day. Few places in the world could make such a claim.

Because the industry is so advanced, quality control, food safety and food security systems are typically world class.

Sure it can take a little effort to figure out your best opportunity. A nation that can ship from either the Atlantic or Pacific offers so many opportunities it can be a challenge to figure out the best way to proceed.

But many a vendor is ready to help guide you, as are the agricultural trade offices in many U.S. embassies as are our regional, statewide and commodity-focused promotion groups. And, of course, as is American Food And Ag Exporter magazine.

Come to America and tour our fields and factories. Visit our vendors, come see our trade shows. These are all great ways to know what opportunities exist for you to do business in America. But there is no need to wait. We have a country filled with vendors well experienced, able and willing to help. And a country filled with foods and brands just perfect to help you build your business.  EXP