Started from a family BBQ recipe in 1947, Ponca City, Okla.’s Head Country is a well-known commodity in the country’s grocery stores and dinner tables. Yet this domestic success is just one facet of this Oklahoma exporter’s story. Under Vice-President Paul Schatte, Head Country began to explore expanding into global markets.
“Outdoor cooking is the oldest form of food preparation in the world,” said Schatte during a presentation to the Oklahoma Governor’s International Team in May 2015. “And no one does it better than Americans.”
It was that prowess for the American grill that first brought Schatte’s attention to the potential in exporting Head Country. As he describes it, several emails and phone calls from a potential customer in Sweden about how best to prepare a Head Country BBQ recipe resulted in Schatte’s visit to the Scandinavian country for a personal demonstration. The successful contacts and business resulting from that foray resulted in Head Country’s expansion to other international markets.
Schatte spoke with the OKGIT about Head Country’s experience in exporting as an Oklahoma company.
How many employees do you have in Oklahoma?
“We have 27 employees in-state, and occasionally use temps outside of Oklahoma when necessary.”
Can you give me an idea of how much Head Country relies on exporting its products outside the U.S.?
“Our international sales account for around five percent of our total business.”
What are your biggest markets to date? Are there some new markets you see worth exploring in the future?
“Head Country is currently established in foreign markets in Europe, Canada, Mexico and Australia. Some new and potential markets of interest include China, other parts of Asia and central and South America.”
What are some of the challenges Head Country faces in exporting from Oklahoma? Are there some benefits from exporting from Oklahoma as well?
“Some of our main challenges of late include a strong U.S. dollar, European food standards and the understanding of our products.
“In terms of positives, Oklahoma is received favorably around the world. Our state’s history of cowboys and Native Americans is found intriguing to the international community. The state is looked at for honesty and being diversified.
“In that vein is Head Country, which proudly represents Oklahoma in foreign trade!”
Looking back to when Head Country first began producing items for export, is there any advice that the company would provide to fellow firms in Oklahoma who are considering forging international ties and exporting?
“Evaluate every question that the foreign distributor asks. What special requirements do you need to meet to manufacture products for them and to get the product imported into their country?
“And finally, charge appropriately for your company’s investment into producing international commodities.”
In terms of trade, what are some challenges for an American food firm in exporting?
“Today Head Country’s export destinations include Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) partners in Scandinavia, Spain and Germany. We also export to Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP) nations like Australia and hope to export to other Asian nations that are part of that agreement.
“In some TPP countries, we face tariffs as high as 20 percent on our product. Should these two trade agreements, the TTIP and TTP, be ratified, Head Country could face lower tariffs and easier regulations, making our products more competitive abroad and consequently, benefiting our workers here in Oklahoma.”