Lifestyle changes within China are having a big impact–both psychological and practical–on the way small and mid-size food manufacturers in the U.S. do business. Small businesses are actively exploring opportunities in such places as Chengdu, Guangzhou, and Shenyang. This year’s American Food Fair–a special feature of the 2008 National Restaurant Association (NRA) show–reflects the growing attraction between Chinese food buyers and America’s smaller food manufacturers.

“The average Chinese household eats out 160 times a year, and along with this increased spending has come greater demand for more choices in food,” says DeWitt Ashby, American Food Fair Director. “Chinese consumers are adventurous, sophisticated, and interested in food safety … a great match for American food manufactures.”

Not only is the number of McDonalds and KFC outlets increasing, but the explosion of the Chinese middle class in urban areas has also given rise to the number of fine-dining establishments, trendy cafes, and international restaurants serving Thai, Korean, Japanese, French, Italian, Brazilian, and American cuisine.

The tremendous purchasing power of the Chinese consumer combined with the cultural importance of food, have Chinese foodservice executives scurrying to fill the need with unique and enticing options. Last year’s delegation of Chinese buyers bolstered their product lines with $25 million in purchases at the show. This year, the Chinese delegation will include 70 foodservice executives representing wholesalers, distributors, restaurants, and institutional programs from across China.

The annual American Food Fair is sponsored by the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) and is designed to provide small and mid-size food manufacturers with a cost-effective way to reach an international audience of top-level food buyers. By teaming up with their local state department of agriculture and exhibiting in their state’s “pavilion” at the American Food Fair, entrepreneurs can explore export opportunities in a supportive atmosphere. NASDA’s trade show partner is the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Through its offices in U.S. Embassies around the world, FAS organizes delegations of food industry executives interested in American-made products.

“We want to provide exhibitors with access to the kind of audience that can make a company a global success,” Ashby says. “Meeting face-to-face with prospective clients is the most effective way to build the buyer/seller relationship that is so crucial for success in international business.”

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