U.S. Food Exports Booming

As international trade increases, you often hear references to the world becoming a global village. A more precise analogy might be the global shopping mall, and American food companies as its food court.

Exports of U.S. made food and beverage products doubled to more than $56 billion from 2000 to 2010, U.S. Census Bureau data indicates, and that was just the warm-up act. In the last two years, food and beverage exports boomed another 25 percent, data from the bureau's foreign trade division suggests, despite a strong dollar making those finished goods more expensive for the importing countries.

More remarkable is the growing involvement by mid-sized and smaller companies. The finished goods of Red Gold, a tomato processor based in Elwood, Ind., can be found on grocers' shelves in 16 countries. The internet has opened trade to 62 countries for CK Products, a $10-$15 million niche supplier of bakery and confections ingredients. Since new ownership took over seven years ago, exports have gone from nothing to 20 percent of total sales.

That's a higher proportion than most international food companies, who have been feeding the world a lot longer. Kellogg derives 14 percent of sales from 160 countries outside the U.S. Emerging markets really excite the folks in Battle Creek. Breakfast cereal was a novelty item in Turkey seven years ago. Once they tasted Fruit Loops, Turks said, "Me like." Cereal sales have tripled since then.

Of course, companies like Kellogg are joined at the hip with Walmart, and that association hasn't hurt. The beast of Bentonville has almost tripled its international store count to 6,148 in the last seven years. That's a lot of shelf space, and U.S. food companies are filling a lot of it, often with products made in America.