Should Your Food or Farm Business Go International?

Food and farm entrepreneurs often assume that only big corporations have the capacity to sell products abroad. But in reality, that’s not true at all. Small food brands and farms also have the potential to expand their business overseas—and many make good money doing it.   
Obviously, plenty of food and ag enterprises are not good candidates for international commerce, whether they lack the capacity, the time, the right products, or even the desire. And, it should be noted, there is absolutely nothing wrong with remaining domestic, regional, or even hyperlocal—there are plenty of avenues for growth within those realms.
However, in more cases than entrepreneurs likely realize, selling internationally can be a smart strategy. For instance, maybe the market for a certain agricultural product is saturated stateside, but there is a shortage of that item in other nations. Or perhaps a small food brand’s offering is much higher quality than what’s available in another country, meaning it would fly off foreign shelves. Or maybe a farmer just has an especially bountiful harvest and needs to find more buyers.
With so many opportunities, international expansion is at least worth considering for food and farm businesses with an eye toward growth. OK, but where do they even begin?
Fortunately, there are plenty of resources to help navigate this, and the local small business development center (SBDC) is a great place to start. SBDCs offer education, consulting, references, and tools to help businesses launch and scale, and every U.S. state and territory has at least one center. In fact, FFI is part of the Wisconsin SBDC.
Most of these organizations have an international trade consultant to guide entrepreneurs contemplating selling overseas. At Wisconsin’s SBDC, that’s Chris Wojtowicz, who joined Sarah for the latest Edible-Alpha® podcast. He discusses a variety of global opportunities available to small food and ag businesses and walks through the big questions they must answer when weighing globalization.  
First and foremost, does the company have the capacity to expand? If it does, is there sufficient demand for its products outside the U.S.? If so, where? Can the business afford the added costs that come with selling abroad? What does that foreign government require for labeling and packaging? What are the import taxes like? Will the company sell direct to consumer or through retail? How will distribution work? Which party will arrange freight?
This is just a small sampling of the considerations—which is why it’s awesome that entrepreneurs don’t have to go it alone. Beyond SBDCs, there is an abundance of local, state, federal and international resources designed to help them figure this stuff out, strategize, and execute a winning global strategy. But again, starting with the local SBDC is just good business.

As the Wisconsin Small Business Development Center’s international trade consultant, Chris Wojtowicz helps food and farm entrepreneurs explore foreign market opportunities and devise global business strategies. Although many clients start out scared by the idea of expanding overseas, with the right guidance, tools, and connections, they frequently find success. Catch this info-packed conversation to learn more about growing a small food or farm business beyond the U.S. and whether it could be a smart move for your enterprise.

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Mark your calendar for our upcoming event: Investing in the Future of Food, on September 21, 2022! At this event, opportunities to connect with food-focused entrepreneurs will be the highlight, directly through exhibitions and sampling, plus indirectly through discussion and presentations. This is a hybrid event, you may join virtually or in person in Madison, WI at the Pyle Center.

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