Food Co-op Hopes for Global Success
Cheesesteaks sizzled in an electric skillet and bite-sized samples of brie were stabbed with toothpicks at the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture offices in Harrisburg Wednesday.
As agriculture officials discussed the renewal of the 2007 Farm Bill in one room, members of the Food Marketing Cooperative of Pennsylvania showed off their products and talked about how they were working to determine their own success on the global market.
The cooperative formed in October 2003, and has 21 members representing 14 counties, including York.
Makers of Pennsylvania-produced products such as organic chicken and cheese, strombolis and cheesesteaks, sugar-free and organic sauces, candy and wine joined forces and pooled resources so they could afford to market their products internationally.
The need arose because small businesses are often shut out of supermarket sales in the United States. Most supermarkets charge slotting fees -- fees to get display space on their shelves -- that small businesses can't afford, said Joe Dudick, cooperative development specialist for Keystone Development Center, which has a York office.
"They need to look at other markets, and that's where the foreign market comes in," said Dudick, whose nonprofit group helps to provide technical advice to businesses and serves as a member of the cooperative.
The cooperative showed pictures of its displays at international food shows in France, Korea, Dubai and Japan, but hasn't yet been able to secure any international sales.
Dudick said research suggests breaking into a global market can take anywhere from two to three years.
Bill Neilson, vice president of sales and marketing for New Jersey-based Savory Sun Foods, said his company believes it can market its vegetarian foods overseas, particularly in countries where religion calls for a vegetarian diet.
Savory Sun Foods currently produces vegetarian hotdogs, bologna and other soy-based products for the food service departments in some U.S. prisons and colleges, Neilson said. Many of its manufacturing facilities are located in Pennsylvania, he said.
Savory Sun joined the cooperative in hopes of more easily making some of those international contacts.
Green Valley Dairy, a Lancaster County-based Amish business where artisan cheeses are made from organic raw milk that comes from grass-fed cows, joined the cooperative hoping to also find some success on the global market.
The business started after two Amish farmers, Aaron Lapp and Henry Stoltzfus, decided to change their farming methods to organic. Impressed with the new quality of their milk, they started the cheese businesses and later incorporated in 2003.
They've had success marketing their cheese, including a cheddar-style cheese called Pennsylvania Noble, in the Lancaster and Philadelphia areas. The company will soon be introducing a brie and triple crème cheese as well, said John Lohac, the company's order, sales and development director.
Lohac said the cheese should have international appeal because the ingredients used give it a unique flavor.
"The cheese has the taste of this country, of this area," he said.
And members of Food Marketing Cooperative of Pennsylvania are hoping the world will soon develop a craving for those Pennsylvania flavors and open a new market that keeps the state's farms and food producers alive.
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