SBDC Consultant Helps Food Businesses Go Global

Wisconsin's international trade expert Chris Wojtowicz discusses how food and farm entrepreneurs can successfully expand their business beyond the U.S.

In Edible-Alpha® podcast #116, Sarah sits down with Chris Wojtowicz, international trade consultant with the Wisconsin Small Business Development Center (SBDC). With 30 years of experience in trade development and trade compliance, he helps small businesses statewide plan and execute their global strategies.  

According to Chris, less than 1% of U.S. companies export, yet more than 95% of the world’s market lies outside the U.S. Therefore, selling excess capacity overseas or simply expanding internationally could be a smart play for food and farm businesses. Many entrepreneurs assume it’ll be too complicated, expensive, or scary, but Chris insists it doesn’t have to be. It just requires research, planning, and tapping into the right resources.

Chris tells clients to first evaluate their product, its benefits, and the reason consumers want to buy it. Then explore various international markets to learn whether they are importing similar products and/or would have a desire for theirs. To help, the International Trade Administration has a database at that suggests market opportunities for specific products. Next, zero in on the nations with the most potential and develop a strategic market entry. Entrepreneurs should decide how they want to sell, such as direct to the end user or through a distributor, and what each path would entail.

Overall, this process is very similar to planning a regional or national expansion, except it also requires consideration of foreign regulations around food safety, packaging, labeling, licensure, taxes, etc. Entrepreneurs must also look at costs and logistics, and if working with a distributor, hammer out terms such as who covers freight, insurance, and loss. Clear documentation and good relationships are key.

On the surface, this all might seem daunting to a small business owner. But there are plenty of resources to help, including SBDC and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) and similar organizations in other states, as well as the U.S. Commercial Service and industry trade associations. Domestic resources such as these can then connect entrepreneurs to foreign-equivalent organizations.  

With the right guidance, Chris says even very small companies can successfully go global—in some cases, even before they expand domestically. It all boils down to finding the white space and executing on the right opportunities—and budgeting time and money carefully, of course.  

There’s a lot more valuable info packed into this podcast, so definitely tune in!