Giant American food distributor Sysco Corp. said Wednesday it’s working with Cuban officials to increase sales to the island’s tourism industry under an exception to the U.S. trade embargo.
So far, the Houston, Texas-based company has sold only about US$500,000 worth of food to the communist country since late last year, said David Dickson, president of the company’s Alabama operation.
But as North America’s largest food distributor, potential for increased trade is huge. Sysco already distributes food products to more than 420,000 restaurants, schools, hotels, hospitals and other customers in the United States and Canada.
Dickson told a news conference that Sysco’s Alabama operation was working with the Cuban food import officials “on a strategic plan to provide world class food products to the tourism industry.
“Our scope is not limited to hospitality, however,” he added.
Dickson indicated that other potential markets for Sysco in Cuba include institutions such as hospitals and schools.
“We believe that Sysco has huge business opportunities in the Cuban market,” said Pedro Alvarez, chairman of Cuba’s food import company Alimport.
The two men spoke at a major Havana hotel, where a conference room was set aside to display many of Sysco’s products, ranging from poultry and corn dogs to canned peaches and cheesecake.
Most trade between the United States and Cuba is prohibited under American sanctions in place more than four decades.
But a 2000 U.S. law created an exception to the embargo, allowing for the direct, commercial sales of American farm goods to Cuba on a cash basis. Cuba began buying American food under the law in late 2001.
In June, Sysco acquired International Food Group Inc. of Plant City, Florida, to expand its presence outside of North America. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.
International Food, with sales last year of US$77.8 million, supplies products to fast-food restaurants in the Caribbean, Central and South America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
Sysco was No. 66 on the Fortune 500 list of the United States’ largest companies in 2003 with sales of US$26.1 billion.