Selling More European Food to Americans

EU Looks for Trendy Americans to Give European Foods a Taste

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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A spread of food laid out at the European Union embassy in Washington highlights a campaign to boost sales of high-end European foods to American consumers. The campaign will continue for three years and targets chefs, retailers and food influencers. (DTN photo by Joel Reichenberger)

WASHINGTON (DTN) -- While U.S. agriculture looks to boost its export sales globally, the European Union (EU) is launching a campaign to sell more of its high-end food and beverage products to the United States.

European food and agricultural exporters maintain a strong positive trade balance with the U.S. -- more than $16.2 billion last year -- but European officials hope to boost their agri-food sales with the EU's first-of-its-kind trade promotion campaign in the U.S.

"We're the third-largest trading partner of agricultural products to each other and we do enjoy the possibility of those growing over the last year," said Jovita Neliupsiene, who became the EU ambassador to the United States in early January.

Neliupsiene detailed the three-year campaign to a group of reporters earlier this week at the EU embassy in Washington. The EU is promoting the campaign "More Than European Food and Drink, Savoring Stories" as a way to draw more attention to higher-end European food brands and products Americans would deem essential to their charcuterie boards.

"One of the things that defines Europe is good quality food," Neliupsiene said.

Pointing out that many foods across Europe have a distinct geography and history that cannot be easily reproduced, Neliupsiene said, "Almost all of our high-quality food is a story."

The U.S. is the second-largest destination for European agri-food exports at 27.2 billion euros ($29 billion), according to a recent European Commission report. Meanwhile, the U.S. exported about $12.76 billion to the EU in agricultural products. That puts the U.S. agricultural trade deficit at $16.24 billion.

Soybeans, fruits, tree nuts and distilled spirits are the largest U.S. agricultural exports to Europe.

Europe already emphasizes marketing higher-value processed foods to the U.S. The largest EU food exports are wine and alcoholic beverages. After that comes processed foods, mainly cheeses, meats and bakery products. "All kinds of products that have an intrinsic higher value and are kind of wanted and asked for by consumers," added Silke Boger, the EU's counselor for agricultural trade.

"Authenticity" is one of the four messaging themes in the European marketing strategy, along with quality, safety and sustainability. Europe places a heavy emphasis on "geographical indicators" that limit competitive products -- especially in areas such as wines and cheeses -- to the area where those foods originated. EU officials acknowledge the policy is heavily enforced to protect European farmers and processors.

"The European campaign tries more to raise awareness about our food and our policy principles about our food and our characteristics," Boger said.

The EU campaign in the U.S. seeks to target chefs, largely younger consumers in coastal markets, as well as Chicago and Texas who are focused on how their food is grown and processed. That includes marketing to millennials as well as "gourmet aficionados." In terms of tapping media, gaining the attention of social media influencers is also a key area. Boger noted the campaign couldn't broadly market products at "big sporting events."

"Where do we think we can raise awareness that it is most beneficial?" Boger said of the marketing strategy.

Asked whether certain countries, such as Italy, are getting more play or presence in the campaign because of their influence in Europe, Boger said the EU is marketing products from all 27 countries.

"It is meant to balance it out and show there are products from all 27 member states that are marketed here and have specific quality characteristics," she said.

Boger made a distinction between the EU's food campaign and other events held by EU staff. Since the beginning of the year, Boger has been attending U.S. farmer conventions, such as the American Farm Bureau Federation meeting in Salt Lake City, as well as Commodity Classic. She said those meetings focus more on "fostering trans-Atlantic dialogue" with American farmers.

The EU also conducted a successful test run of its campaign at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, Texas, "to see how we can interact with younger, interested and also critically reflecting consumers." Boger said there were a lot of young people at the festival who were "very interested in how we produce our foods."

Other events on the EU's campaign schedule are food and wine festivals in Aspen, Colorado, and Charleston, South Carolina, as well as upcoming events in New York.

Globally, the EU spends 216 million euros ($230 million) each year on agricultural trade promotion. That's in line with the USDA Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development program, known combined as "MAP and FMD," which equals $234.5 million annually. Farm groups have been calling on Congress to double the MAP and FMD funding in the next farm bill.

Just this week, U.S. lawmakers pressed U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai about opening up more markets for agricultural products and the European Union came up. Tai said one problem is the EU doesn't want to put more market access for agriculture on the table in trade talks.

See, "USTR Defends Ag 'Singles and Doubles',"…

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Chris Clayton