As the world slowly recovers from the economic crisis, Europe increasingly looks to export markets for its beloved food products. Their wines have been flowing through our ports for years, helping to make the U.S. the number one consumer of vino. Other foods such as cheese and salumi have faced more challenges including domestic competition, government regulations and a lower level of consumer knowledge for their artisan products.
Education is the key for these products. The DOP and PDO systems for geographical protection are still foreign to the majority of Americans. Advertising alone cannot solve this problem. Education marketing requires an integrated approach that reaches all audiences including distributors, retailers, chefs and the end consumer for success.
Realizing the need for impactful marketing campaigns the EU made recent changes that will provide new opportunities for producers and their regional associations. Increases in total funding and co-financing contributions, along with less red tape to deal with member states will make it easier for more producers to participate in marketing campaigns.
Over the years we have managed several successful EU campaigns, including one that was just renewed with the highest level of funding. We understand the many EU rules and limitations, as well as the key audiences and messages that lead to understanding and action. More importantly we have been implementing integrated educational marketing campaigns for over 50 years to great success for other categories such as blueberries, avocados and mushrooms.
Cheese is the number one category in specialty foods according to the Specialty Food Association’s most recent State of the Industry Report. Just recently the EU has made an effort to take back its names from American producers. Since it is unlikely to occur, the need for education marketing is even stronger. Parmigiano-Reggiano, Brie and Gouda all have their roots in Europe, but domestic producers are all producing alternatives.
There is also a need for education at our government regulatory level. The Food Safety Modernization Act along with the U.S. government’s unique zero tolerance policy for listeria has made it more difficult for some producers to continue following their centuries-old traditions. The FDA just recently stepped back from a plan to ban all cheeses aged on wooden boards. Enacting strict regulations based on our own experiences with food production shows a misunderstanding of artisanal processes that have been followed for generations. Besides, we clearly have our own issues as circumstances surrounding practices at a California slaughterhouse come to light.
The US specialty food industry is booming, up over 18 percent in sales from 2011 to 2013. People are more interested in where their food comes from than ever before, and technology has provided them with numerous ways to learn. The time is ripe for European food products to grow US exports, and I am excited for the upcoming Summer Fancy Food Show in New York. Maybe I’ll see you there.