Czech food exporters seek firmer foothold on US market

Photo: ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos

Czech Agriculture Minister Marian Jurečka is heading a delegation of Czech businessmen to the United States where Czech food producers are hoping to find a market for some of their select products. Among the companies represented are leading producers of beer and spirits as well as meat and dairy products.

Marian Jurečka,  photo: Filip Jandourek
So far bilateral trade in food products has been pretty much a one-way street. While in 2014 the Czech Republic imported US food products to the tune of 2.5 billion crowns, Czech food exports to the United States reached a mere 806 million crowns. Even so, it was an 18 percent increase year-on-year and Czech firms are hoping to boost the trend by placing some of their select products in US supermarket chains. The week-long business mission will take the Czech delegation to Washington, Virginia, Arkansas and Texas. Minister Jurečka says he is optimistic it will bring results.

“The business leaders who are accompanying me on this trip represent our leading export commodities – from milk and dairy producers, through beer and spirits to cereals and organic food. The aim of this trip is to find new business partners and broaden our scope here. I think there is potentially a bigger market for Czech beer and possibly also for dairy and meat products. “

The director of the Czech association of meat producers Jan Katina says that while the competition is enormous Czech producers do stand a chance with high-quality select goods that the Czech Republic is known for.

Photo: ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos
“This effort is definitely worth pursuing because in the past Czechoslovakia did export a line of select meat products to the United States. I am taking about extra-quality ham and ham products. Of course we could offer a broad range of products even now, but I think we need to present a small select line of products for a start.”

For the representatives of 11 leading Czech firms this will be something of a fact-gathering mission to see which of their products would possibly generate an interest and what the competition is offering US retailers. They will also need to inform themselves about some of the hurdles on the road in the form of licenses, labelling and food norms.

One of the seasoned businessmen on this trip, Zdeněk Chromý who represents the Rudolf Jelinek spirits producer, says that the competition on the US market is tough even with a famous trademark name. Jelinek has been selling alcoholic beverages to the US for 15 years now.

“Today we have a good distribution network and sell in more than 30 states. New York, New Jersey, Chicago, California … We export a million dollars’ worth of alcoholic beverages a year, but I can tell you that the competition is extremely tough and we fight to place every bottle. It looks like it is one big market but it is really 49 markets each of which has its specifics and in each of which you have to find a distributor, visit restaurants and sales outlets and do a lot of PR to the support the product as best as you can.”

Illustrative photo: Barbora Kmentová
While some companies such as Jelinek are looking to broaden their scope, others –such as Czech meat producers –are pretty much on the starting line.

No significant deals are expected at this stage and the business mission is one of many being undertaken to try and make up for the loss of Russian markets in the wake of EU sanctions which many fear will create a glut of food products in Europe. With over 90 percent of Czech food exports heading for EU member states Czech food producers have reason for concern and have been pushing strongly for diversification.