Belgian food and beverage executives look to Rhode island to grow business – Providence Business First – The Business Journals

Food and beverage executives from Belgium are exploring business opportunities in Rhode Island.
Last Thursday, leaders in the Ocean State welcomed a Belgian trade mission, touted the state’s “food innovation ecosystem,” and conducted a tour that started at Johnson & Wales University and led from Dave’s Fresh Marketplace in East Greenwich to the Hope & Main culinary incubator in Warren.
It was the first time that Belgium’s economic trade mission — with planned stops in Atlanta, Boston and New York — included Rhode Island.
“We view the state as a unique launching hub for Belgian food companies who wish to further develop activities in the American market. Similar to Belgium, Rhode Island’s food ecosystem is compact and responsive, and shares our values of quality, innovation and sustainability,” said Tine Vandervelden of the Belgian trade group Fevia, which organized the mission.
“Belgian products are renowned for their artisanal quality steeped in tradition, and having the U.S. mission visit the Ocean State to learn about our food system is monumental,” said Julianne Stelmaszyk, food strategy director at the Rhode Island Commerce Corp., in a news release.
From “strategic supports, cooperation with local government and academic institutions, and an ideal location along the eastern seaboard,” Rhode Island’s unique food ecosystem can support foreign companies looking to enter the U.S. market, Stelmaszyk added.
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Lisa Raiola, president and founder of Hope & Main, which was launched in 2009 with a mission to empower an inclusive community of entrepreneurs to jumpstart and cultivate thriving food businesses in the state, said Rhode Island “has cultivated an ecosystem unlike any other in the U.S., where international food companies can introduce new products while de-risking key aspects of what often trips up new brand entrants as they go-to-market outside of their home country.”
She added that there’s a lot to learn — with challenges from “packaging to pricing, compliance and supply chain issues, and even flavor profiles of international products not necessarily formulated for the American palette.”
The “Rhode Island Food & Innovation Tour” included a panel discussion at Johnson & Wales, which is renowned for its culinary arts program. The university has also established its College of Food Innovation and Technology where students and faculty work on broader issues around sustainable and profitable food systems.
Johnson & Wales aims to create a “vibrant food, beverage and hospitality economy in Rhode Island and beyond,” said Jason Evans, founding dean of the college.
Rhode Island in 2016 established an official food strategy. The plan aims to preserve and grow agriculture and fisheries, sustain and create markets for Rhode Island food and beverages, ensure food security for all, and minimize food waste and divert it from the waste stream.
Last year RI Commerce hosted a webinar with Fevia members where they touted Rhode island as a “launching pad into the US” because of the state’s strategic location on the Northeast Corridor, its supportive business environment, and its lower cost of operations compared to Boston and New York.
Rhode Island is home to “numerous James Beard nominated chefs, restaurants, and more than 40 farmers markets,” RI Commerce proclaimed, while pointing to increased consumer demand for “regional and resilient food systems, transparent supply chains, health-conscious eating and plant-based foods.”
Governor Dan McKee and Hilary Gagan, president of the Rhode Island Commerce Corp., were on hand Thursday to welcome the delegation.
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