Exporting to the USA

What to Know and Where to Find Information

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The US is the world’s largest food market, with a retail turnover of over $1.2 trillion, with more than 900,000 stores and restaurants that sell food, with a high degree of transparency and data availability, and with retail shelves stuffed to the brim.

Every brand has a chance to make it here … and an equal chance to fail. The difference between success and failure is marketing: product and packaging choices, positioning, pricing, and promotion are all important. Creativity is key. Following are check lists of what to know, category-specific facts, and sources of further information.

What to Know:

  1. Exporting to the United States is a strategic decision, which requires substantial investments in time, energy and money.
  2. Knowledge of your specific category and the retail environment is key. Before selecting products for this market, visit the United States, conduct store checks in various channels, analyze competitive products, and make your product plans accordingly.
  3. Check if your product requires any permit or are subject to any export restrictions (quotas, tariffs, licenses).
  4. Create and produce a US-ready label, including ingredient statement, nutrition statement (may require laboratory analysis), country of origin statement etc. all with the right font size and space.
  5. Register your production and warehouse facilities at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) according to the Bioterrorism laws.
  6. Find the right importer — one of the hardest tasks in the process. This will require visiting and exhibiting at various trade fairs and making a lot of calls. The choice of importer should be determined by your choice of target consumers, retail channels, product positioning and revenue expectations. Ask your potential import partners about their retailer networks, strength and weaknesses.
  7. Make sure that your first shipments are all correctly labeled and documented. Officials of the FDA and US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) can detain containers not properly labeled which may take your products beyond their shelf life.
  8. Gain retail distribution and keep it. This could be one of your biggest financial investments. In the highly competitive US market you can gain shelf space quickly, but you can loose it equally fast. Product positioning, communication and promotion are key to stay on the shelves.

Category-specific facts:

  • Pork: currently, only processed pork products from Germany are allowed into the United States, such as ham and sausages. Both slaughterhouses and processing facilities need to conform to USDA standards and will have to be inspected and certified by the USA. As this is a very cumbersome, lengthy and expensive process, only a handful of German processors have a USDA license to export to the USA. One of these is Meica, a premier German sausage brand.
  • Beef and poultry products may not be imported, due to different phytosanitary standards between the USA and the EU. However, the import of life animals, such as horses, is possible.
  • Egg products may not be imported due to the Avian flue virus (with a few exceptions.)
  • Milk and dairy products, such as quark, require a ‘Grade A’ permit, which is almost impossible to obtain. Hence authentic German products are not available in the USA.
  • Cheese imports in general are subject to high import duties (to protect the domestic industry), unless an importer has a license that allows to import a certain quota of cheeses from around the world an no or very little duty. The licenses are available at the FDA and will be renewed every year. There are some fine cheeses from Germany available in the United States, such blue cheese and Cambozola from Bavaria.
  • The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulates fresh products (meat, vegetables, dairy etc) while the Food & Drug Administration regulates most package goods and cheeses.
  • Low acid canned goods require a permit.
  • Organic products may carry the well known ‘National Organic Program’ (NOP) issued by the USDA, which clearly defines which products are organic according to specific standards and which are not. US organic standards differ from those in the EU. Imported organic products may not carry any seal of another country or region.
  • Alcoholic beverages are regulated by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Labels must be approved by the Bureau prior to import.

Sources of Further Information:

German Foods North America provides many service and expert advice for each step of the market entry and beyond. Please contact our office anytime.

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