International Trade and Global Business


Selling Food Products to the U.S.

Exporting food products to the U.S. can a piece of cake, if done right.
The market is big both in terms of physical size and population, now well over 300 million and growing.  The food market is complex with the usual welter of wholesalers, distributors, retailers and individual consumers served via e-commerce.  It’s best to do your research and then decide where best to focus.  If in doubt, select one of the many food and beverage trade shows around the country and visit as a guest.  Here, you’ll learn a ton about pricing, packaging, competitors and best sale channels for your specific product.
Some shows are regional and tend to be smaller and more focused.  For example, the Pacific Northwest is a good market with an educated population, high disposable income and interest in outdoor, healthy lifestyles.  Here’s a video describing Northwest Food and Beverage World to be held in Portland, Oregon in January.
There are many other regional and national shows. Some are international, where you can expand your horizons by meeting non-U.S. buyers.
Similar to most other countries, the U.S. has strict food safety regulations to protect people from harmful products.  If you plan to sell your product commercially, you’ll need to get it tested by one of a collection of testing entities that are approved by the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Let them know the food is coming
These third-party testers often specialize in certain food product types such as seafood, canned food, plant-based foods, meat and poultry, etc. Once you’ve selected one based on the information provided, including the tester’s website, you will be walked through the process.  Some products may require an onsite inspection of your manufacturing facility, work normally done by the FDA counterpart in your country.  Where none exists, the inspection may be conducted by a third party in your country with whom the FDA-approved tester contracts. The purpose is to avoid the expense of flying testers around the world, a particular hardship for the smaller food exporter.
Once approved, you’ll be issued a certificate that will enable the export of your product to the U.S.  To avoid inspections by customs officials each time a shipment arrives in the U.S., and this is done because of credible threats to the nation’s food supply, the U.S. requires prior notice of the arrival of a shipment.  Once approved to ship to the U.S., you’ll be given access to a system that allows a notice to be filed and approved electronically. This will avoid delays at the port of arrival.
B2C sales via e-commerce generally require a notice of arrival even if sent via post or an express carrier.  Failure to do so may result in penalties if done repeatedly.  The only exception is food sent as a gift or for non-commercial purposes.
Labeling is a complex area of regulation and a blog such as this can’t do it justice.  The FDA website is an excellent tool to consult, as it’s written in non-legalese language.
A reason for the complexity is the rules vary from one kind of a product to another.  Since labels sometimes intentionally contain false or misleading information, you need to avoid formulations that confuse or deceive.  Certain type faces and sizes are required.  So, it’s best to study the details before heading to the post office, new orders in hand.
Did we say selling food products in the U.S. is a piece of cake?  We should have said that while many companies are successful selling their food products into the U.S., the key is not to go off half-baked.


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