Coleman Dairy an Unexpected Winner at Arkansas Export Awards

Winners at the third-annual Arkansas Governor's Awards for Global Trade included some surprises including Coleman Dairy.

The Little Rock dairy products provider and a Bentonville travel firm specializing in bringing international visitors to Arkansas for agricultural tours were among the four businesses honored Wednesday at the Governor's Mansion for their efforts in exporting.

Joining Coleman and Trump Tours was Riceland Foods of Stuttgart and Keith Smith Co. of Hot Springs, which also was honored at the inaugural event in 2010.

Riceland was recognized in the large agribusiness category; Coleman Dairy in the small/medium manufacturer category; Trump Tours in the small/medium services category, and Keith Smith Co. in the smell/medium agribusiness category and with a "Governor's E Star Award."

Coleman Dairy has long been known for its longevity, TV commercials, customer loyalty and the Coleman family itself, which includes NFL referee Walt Coleman. But exports?

Coleman general manager Mike Flagg, who accepted on behalf of the dairy, told ArkansasBusiness.com that Coleman exported dairy products to island nations in the Caribbean in the '80s, but stopped before re-entering the market in 2005.

Coleman Dairy products currently are available under the IGA and Coleman brand names in Jamaica, the Turks, on Grand Cayman, St. Kitts and other islands. Flagg said Coleman can provide better quality to those island nations than what is otherwise available. One operational dairy in Puerto Rico is all that exists in the region for Caribbean markets, he said.

Flagg said Coleman can have its products packaged within 20 hours of leaving the farm and at the port of Miami in another 18 hours. Longer shelf life and a good distributor make it possible, he said.

"We get flooded with emails from Arkansans traveling in the Caribbean who tell us how wonderful it was to go into a store and see Coleman products on the shelf," he said.

Exports remain a small percentage of Coleman's business, but a growing one. The dairy is in 11 southeastern states in the U.S. and now is the exclusive dairy provider for all 32 U.S. military base commissaries in the region.

"We're really proud of that," Flagg said. "We've been able to drive down the price of milk for soldiers by $1 a gallon."

Flagg said Coleman's commissary business has grown by 40 to 50 percent each of the last three years.

Trump Tours is another business for which exporting doesn't immediately come to mind. Its innovative model exports group travel services by arranging trips for folks interested in learning more about American agriculture. Tours are customized based on a group's needs.

Trump also sends American farmers to other countries.

Riceland was honored for its longtime exporting efforts. The rice and agricultural cooperative has annual sales of more than $1 billion, with one-third of its rice and all its wheat exported to more than 65 foreign countries. 

CEO Danny Kennedy said 40 percent of Riceland's profit is devoted to exports.

One of the first Arkansas companies to be recognized for exporting in 2010, Keith Smith Co. provides broiler hatching eggs to the poultry industry. Its exports have grown to account for 45 percent of its business.

Gov. Mike Beebe hosted the event, which filled the mansion's banquet hall, and said the state could create more jobs if more companies embraced exporting. 

"In order to expand our ability to attract business from other countries, we have to expand the markets for our businesses to other places," he said.

Keynote speaker Dave Hudson, director of marketing for UPS and based in St. Louis, said a fundamental shift is taking place in developing markets with an increasing middle class that desires American products. Exporting is the only way to tap that growing market, he said.

"What better path to growth is there available for American business," he asked. "There's not one."

Patricia Gonzalez, director of the Arkansas office of the U.S. Export Assistance Center was honored for her three years at the helm. She will leave her Arkansas post on June 1 to take an assignment as the deputy senior commercial officer at the U.S. Mission to the European Union in Brussels.

Gonzalez is credited with energizing the exporting community in the state, including the reinvigoration of the Arkansas District Export Council and the creation of her office's Export University, a global trade tutorial for small- and medium-sized businesses.