SIAL Canada’s tips for Exporting from Canada to the USA
One great appeal of exporting to America is its large market of over 350 million people. Keep in mind, however, that no one explodes onto the national scene without deep pockets and serious inventory. The far more common path is to introduce yourself regionally, familiarize yourself with the market, work out the kinks, then expand.
Defining America’s regions is no simple task, and not as important as it may seem. The question of whether or not Idaho is technically part of the Pacific Northwest is less important than the question of how its people’s eating habits and market saturation affect your prospects.
A vegan-oriented product for example, might be more successful on the West Coast, but no one there is willing to pay the transportation all the way from New Brunswick. Urban New England, like Boston or Pittsburg, or even the coastal south like Georgia or Florida, might be a better bet. California dreams might be better realized if they’re tested in Atlanta first.
2. Put Your Product in Context
Can’t wait to unveil your new packaging? Proud to present your recent ethical certification? While keeping up with trends can be crucial, odds are low you are the first person to adopt a new innovation. Whatever you think the most appealing point of your product is, it may not be what’s attracted your client.
You’ll need to familiarize yourself with your competition before you pitch. Perhaps, for example, you’re the first company in Ontario to use compostable packaging for ready-to-eat rice dishes. However, your research into the US Atlantic region reveals three other companies offering similar packaging. You’ll need to find what differentiates your product from those: maybe its Canadian origin, or a certain type of rice, or the packaging is also ethically sourced.
Getting a firm grasp on who offers similar products in your target region can tell you exactly how to present your product to an importer.
3. Get ahead on Paperwork
One of the most shocking revelations for new Canadian exporters is how little importers can help with customs and legal questions. While you may export to only a few countries, your client in retail or distribution may import from dozens. Worse still, US food regulations have undergone massive changes in the last decade, and a legacy of sometimes irregular enforcement means many importers are unclear on the best way to proceed.
You’ll need to demonstrate some knowledge of and preparation for filling out the kind of paperwork that is part and parcel of importing and exporting. Luckily, Canada is one of two countries with systems comparable to the FDA, so you may actually have less work than you anticipate.
Remember that all American food companies are now subject to the Foreign Supplier Verification Program, or FSVP, meaning they need to keep detailed records of your company and your interactions. Don’t make your potential client do all the work.
4. Keep Your Approach Simple
Your vision for your company is critical for staying on track, motivation employees and planning future moves. Just remember that it doesn’t really matter to anyone else. Your purpose in approaching a new client is to meet their needs, whatever those may be, regardless of your interest or intent.
Keep your conversation focused on the immediate situation and projections for the most popular products only. There is no need to present your entire range of products, or explain how certain products represent to your company’s philosophy. You’ll have better results presenting one product in a few short words than ten products you’re super enthusiastic about.
5. Keep an Open Mind
The United States’ food system is a centuries-old labyrinth of tradition, tastes, and innovation, all wrapped in layers of regulation. You may have a very clear idea of how you want to approach the market. You may have even taken our advice and presented a simple, straightforward product offering, only to find that your new potential customer wants a very different arrangement.
Perhaps they want to use a distributor, or a consultant, or even buy a range of products you hadn’t anticipated. Truth is, no amount of research can predict your client’s exact needs. You’ve got your foot in the door, and even have some interest, so don’t pass up a good opportunity because it’s not exactly what you want.
Of course you should never compromise your principles or over promise anything, but a little flexibility now could translate into many more options later.
Learn more with our Hosted Buyer Program, designed to give you the advantage in exporting from Canada to the US.