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Considering that 95% of the world’s population lives outside the United States, the potential market for agriculture goods is global.

Participating in the global market may seem too daunting for a small business, and something better left to the biggest companies like Hershey, Heinz and Herr’s. But many small Pennsylvania companies are thriving thanks to international trade. And, trade is looking up because the pandemic has changed global eating habits, creating new opportunities for products entering the market.

Restaurants temporarily closed globally when the pandemic struck in order to mitigate the spread, and consumers began buying much more food at grocery stores. For some, cooking has become a hobby. Consumers are ready to try cooking new foods. There is a premium on grab-and-go convenience foods. Takeout and online food shopping have increased worldwide, and consumers are expected to stick with these new habits, according to experts around the world reporting to Food Export-Northeast, a nonprofit, cooperative effort of 10 Northeastern state agricultural promotion agencies and the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service. Food Export-Northeast facilitates trade between northeastern food suppliers and importers around the world.

The organization has helped make many important connections for Pennsylvania businesses, resulting in some promising success stories.

Local Food Goes Global

In the middle of the pandemic, summer of 2020, Miller’s Mustard of Gibsonia received an inquiry from a potential overseas importer about its homemade banana pepper mustard. Before sending the company’s banking information, Miller’s Mustard asked Food Export to verify the lead was legitimate. It was. Through exporting, Miller’s Mustard has grown from a business out of a kitchen, to shipping containers full of products to customers in South Korea.

In 2019, Hatboro-based SB Global Foods, maker of Pretzel Pete Pretzels, worked with Food Export to make sales in Japan and the United Arab Emirates.

Bassetts Ice Cream in Philadelphia participated in Food Export-Northeast’s cost-share branded program to continue its growth in the South Korean market.

Lancaster-based U.S. Durum expanded its business in 2019 and now supplies couscous and toasted orzo to Canada and Europe.

Straight Arrow Products of Bethlehem used funding from Food Export’s branded program to help increase sales in five global markets — China, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Egypt and the Netherlands. The company is behind the Mane ‘n Tail line of shampoos and conditioners.

Making Connections Through the Department of Ag

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Market Development works with the Department of Economic Development’s Office of International Business Development and Food Export-Northeast, among other partners, to usher businesses through the export processes.

The recent confirmation of Katherine Tai as President Joe Biden’s U.S. trade representative is another reason for confidence in exporting. Tai’s experience spans the Obama and Trump administrations. She has worked on trade issues with China and helped negotiate parts of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement and is likely to create more market access for U.S. products.

Exports of consumer food products have grown 10% between 2016 and 2019. That growth is three times faster than sales inside the U.S., and it indicates a long-term upward trend. During its recent Agricultural Outlook Forum, the USDA reported U.S. agriculture exports are forecast to rise to a record $157 billion in fiscal 2021. This is a $21.3 billion increase over fiscal year 2020’s $135.7 billion. If those numbers play out, it will be the third-largest fiscal year-over-year increase in U.S. agriculture export history, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.

USDA is forecasting increased exports in every major commodity group; for example, grains and feeds are projected up $7.8 billion. Livestock, dairy and poultry exports are projected up $1.2 billion. And horticultural product exports are projected up $800 million.

Many companies shy away from exporting because they don’t know how or where to get started. Our role at the Department of Agriculture is to connect you with the resources you need to enter the world of international trade. We work with many partner agencies that provide training programs to help get you started. And we track export sales and other data, keeping a pulse on international trade trends.

Our Bureau of Food Safety supports export efforts by issuing “Certificates of Free Sale,” certifying that the product was recently inspected and prepared in sanitary conditions.

Among the top Pennsylvania ag exports are hardwoods, chocolate and cocoa products, dairy products, fresh fruit, snack foods, beverages, pork and essential oils. Pennsylvania’s exports in 2020 were nearly $3 billion, with food representing $1.6 billion and hardwoods exceeding $1 billion.

Exporting is for both large and small business. Imagine the possibility of cultivating a more resilient business through worldwide customers.

To learn more about exporting, contact Laura England at Agriculture’s Bureau of Market Development at 717-783-8462 or laengland@pa.gov.

Russell Redding is Pennsylvania’s secretary of agriculture.

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