MDARD expects 2011's numbers to show at least a 10 percent increase.
You're probably thinking this is mostly blueberries and other produce, but the numbers are growing because certain West Michigan foods have just popped up on the global radar in the past few years. At a recent Midwest Buyers Mission in Grand Rapids, sponsored by MDARD, 13 international buyers set their eyes on Made in Michigan.
"This is the Black Angus Frank," said Kent Quality Foods National Sales Manager Dave Wiersum.
It turns out the American hot dog is now in hot demand in the Middle East, because they don't have many food processors. One buyer from Dubai wants Kent Quality Foods' beef for the growing number of Johnny Rockets and Dairy Queens.
"There's an emerging middle class for these restaurants," said Wiersum.
These new foreign consumers are willing to spend money; buyers at the conference were only looking for high quality foods.
"And that's why there's so much opportunity as we see these middle classes growing in Central America, South America, Asian countries, Russia," said Jamie Zmitko-Somers, International Marketing Manager with MDARD.
Wiersum's company is making its first trek overseas, but Grand Rapids-based peanut butter maker Koeze may be the perfect example of a local favorite turned international success story. It turns out Japan, Korea, and the Russians have never had peanut butter, according to Koeze's Creative Director Martin Andree. That's until he started introducing the signature American staple overseas seven years ago.
Andree' says most Asian countries don't have a strong bread culture, but the Russians do.
"They've really gone to town with this peanut guy. We sell peanut butter to Russia by the container load."
And the Russians market it as a luxury, advertising on billboards and in magazines.
"(Inside the magazine) You see diamonds, more diamonds, cognac, and our peanut dude," he said, flipping through the magazine.
And on the opposite page, was a young woman.
"She's holding a spoon, and she's giving you this come hither look."
Andree called his Russian supplier to translate.
"He says, 'Martin, I don't want you to worry. This woman, she's eating your peanut butter, she's looking you right in the eye, and she says to you, 482 grams of pure satisfaction'" he said in a Russian accent.
But that's what sells, and others hope their pitch works --
"There's your hook, a U.S. made snack food," said the representative to a foreigner buyer. Because foreign appetites seem to want a bite of Made in Michigan.
Michigan food and ag products are in the most demand in Canada; the country takes 60 percent of the international market.
Zmitko-Somers says China is the largest emerging market, and says the newest interest is from Brazil and Columbia.
Koeze's largest customer is actually Japan.
Zmitko-Somers says if Michigan companies want to receive money from MDARD to market their products overseas, products must have an America flag to represent "Made in America."