The Leading Food Importers in the United States in 2023
The food importing industry in the United States has experienced rapid growth in recent years. As consumer preferences shift towards more diverse and specialty products, retailers and restaurants are increasingly looking to source ingredients and finished goods from abroad. In 2023, imported food shipments are valued at over $125 billion. While imports help meet consumer demand, they also allow the food industry to source lower cost inputs or differentiated products not available domestically.
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Selecting the Right Food Import Partners
For U.S. buyers, choosing the right importer is crucial to ensuring product quality, timely delivery, and compliance with customs requirements. The top food importers have extensive overseas networks and a sophisticated understanding of the import process. When vetting potential partners, buyers should review their experience, specialties, and service capabilities. It’s also wise to check references or visit supplier facilities when possible.
The Largest Food Importers
Many established wholesalers, distributors and import brokers have robust import programs. However, a select group of companies specialize in food imports as their primary focus. Here are 9 of the largest food importers in the U.S.:
- Sysco – World imports valued at $5 billion. Major categories include meats, produce, dairy and grocery.
- US Foods – Imports exceed $3 billion annually. Key products are fruits, vegetables, specialty foods.
- Cargill – Among the world’s largest food and agriculture companies. Major imported items are meats, grains, oils.
- JBS USA – A subsidiary of Brazilian firm JBS S.A. Imports processed meats, pork, poultry and more.
- Cheney Brothers – A leading Florida-based food distributor with import sales over $1 billion.
- Baldor Specialty Foods – New York based importer focused on produce, dairy and specialty grocery.
- ParmCrisps – Specializes in imported Italian cheeses, meats and other specialty foods.
- Giraffe Imports – Florida importer focused on Filipino food products.
- Gustiamo – Importer of Italian specialty foods, olive oils, vinegar and more.
Ingredients Imports Sourcing Global Flavors
Food manufacturers depend on imports to source ingredients not available locally. For example, tropical offerings like coconut oil and chilies largely come from Asia. Europe is renowned for high quality cheeses, seafood and olive oil. And many firms import cocoa or coffee directly from bean growers in Africa or Latin America.
For U.S. food processors, securing the right imported components can elevate quality. But fluctuating exchange rates, shipping delays or regulatory changes can all impact costs. Partnering with experienced ingredients importers is vital to overcoming these hurdles.
Trends Driving Food Imports Higher
So what factors explain the rising value of food imports to the U.S.? Some key trends include:
- Consumer Demand – As new immigrant communities grow, demand for authentic ethnic cuisine rises. To recreate these dishes, restaurants and retailers are sourcing specialty ingredients from abroad.
- Off-Season Produce – Improved logistics allow more produce to be imported during the cold winter months when domestic options are limited.
- Organics & Specialty – As the organic and specialty foods segment expands, retailers increasingly look to imports to provide unique products.
- Value-Added Products – U.S. consumers have a taste for convenient, ready-to-eat foods. Imports of prepared, frozen, or packaged goods are on the rise.
- Input Prices – For commodity products like cooking oils, seafood or coffee, global market prices influence sourcing decisions. Taking advantage of lower cost foreign ingredients can improve margins.
Trusting Your Food Import Partner
Despite rising dollar volumes, profit margins in food importing remain thin. Navigating global sourcing, freight contracts, customs brokerage, currency swings and warehousing is complex. As an importer’s reputation is on the line with every shipment, integrity and transparency are essential.
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For U.S. buyers, the most valuable import partners share several traits:
- Specialized expertise in their product categories and origins
- Commitment to understanding client needs and premium service
- Investments in quality control and supply chain visibility
- Focus on compliance, food safety and social responsibility
- Financial strength and stability
In a dynamic global market, choosing the right importer is a long-term decision. Building strategic relationships with specialists in sourcing ensures a competitive edge.
The Rising Demand for Food Imports in the United States
Over the past decade, the volume and value of food imports into the United States has grown steadily. According to data from the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, total U.S. food imports increased from $64 billion in 2010 to over $125 billion in 2020, representing an 95% increase. Several factors have driven this growth in demand for imported food and agricultural products.
Growth of Organic and Specialty Food Imports
The market for premium and specialty foods in the U.S. has exploded over the past decade. To meet this demand, gourmet food retailers and distributors are turning to imports. According to the Specialty Food Association, specialty food sales topped $158 billion in 2019, more than double the $70 billion in sales a decade earlier.
A key driver has been exponential growth in the organic foods segment. U.S. organic food sales increased from $26.6 billion in 2010 to over $50 billion in 2019 according to the Organic Trade Association (OTA). With tight domestic supplies, retailers often import organic ingredients from leading global producers.
Surging Imports of Fresh Seafood
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the value of total seafood imports rose from $14.2 billion in 2010 to over $21.5 billion in 2019. Fresh and frozen seafood imports grew even faster, more than doubling from $6 billion to $13.1 billion over the past decade.
Several dynamics have driven strong growth in seafood imports, including rising U.S. per capita seafood consumption and the fact that over 90% of seafood consumed domestically is now imported.
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