We regularly attend specialty food shows to stay on top of trends, meet with colleagues and check out the new foods and beverages on display. We see (and sample) dozens of products and brands, including many from other countries. We enjoy meeting with these creative and energetic marketers eager to make a big splash in the U.S. But in our experience, they risk failure because of these five mistakes.    

1. Failing to Grasp America’s Size

There is an old joke: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. The U.S. is huge, 325 million people sprawled across 50 states, and reaching them is a constant struggle, even for entrenched companies with big budgets. And America is wildly diverse, not just ethnically, but philosophically and culturally. Even within regions, there can be significant differences in attitudes and behaviors. Hell, California alone might as well be three different countries. Our advice is this: focus on a manageable geography and learn what works and what doesn’t. Armed with that understanding, you can expand to other markets.

 2. Underfunded Marketing Support

This is a corollary to the first mistake. The ad budget in your home country may get the job done there, but it’s a drop in the bucket in the U.S. We often see this in launch campaigns. Here is the scenario: A brand is well-received at a food show and takes some orders. The brand team is ecstatic. They fund a launch campaign with a smattering of sampling events, high value coupons a website and a presence in social media. Then they sit back and say, “our work is done.” Even if you succeed in getting traction initially, once you stop funding marketing support, the consumers may forget about you, the trade may forget about you, and your shelf space could be given to another brand.   

 3. Selling Country of Origin instead of Brand

The Fancy Food Show is a wonderful experience where you can take a culinary trip around the world. But many brands seem to think that an advertising or marketing message that celebrates the old country will somehow be enough to make American consumers buy their brand. Take Italy (which we try to do as much as possible), for example. Companies trying to enter the U.S. market seem to forget that there are hundreds, if not thousands of products imported from Italy, across dozens of categories like wine, olive oil, cheese, pasta and canned tomatoes. And they all use charming photos of Italian people and landscapes (and usually boast about having been run by the same family for generations). But when a U.S. consumer is standing at the shelf, all those Italy-centric images blur together, and the names all sound alike. They default to a brand they already know, choose the one on sale, or decide based on how attractive the label is, because the only brand you have promoted is “Italy.

4. Using the Same Name/Packaging Without Testing First

We have seen some gorgeous packaging, and there is no doubt that the creative talent in many countries is impressive, but some brand names, designs and package configurations just won’t work in America. There are the physical issues, like modifications needed to facilitate shipping or distribution, plus redesigning to meet mandatory label requirements. But there are also social and cultural issues that may prevent U.S. shoppers from embracing your product. (No doubt there are many American brands that look out of place on shelves in other nations). What may be whimsical and charming in your country may seem juvenile or simply too “foreign.” Is the name of your brand pronounceable? Are you sure the name doesn’t have another meaning here? Of course you want to maintain the integrity of your company and brand, but it is always a good idea to verify that your brand and packaging will boost sales in the U.S., rather than prevent them. Sometimes all it takes is a little tweaking.

 5. Failure to Understand Usage Occasions in America

Don’t assume that consumers in America will use your product the same way you do. Americans like to do things their own way. The biscuits served with tea in England may be the snacks an American mom packs in her child’s lunch. The robust red wine that goes so well with beef pizzaiola may not be served with food at all; it may be the drink of choice for girl’s night. The good news is that we are consuming things all the time (seriously, we snack all day) and we love to try new things and make them our own. Find out who, how and why American consumers will use your product and capture those sales.