Since starting its organic juice business more than a decade ago, Purity Organics did little in the way of exports, other than some minor sales in South Korea.
The San Francisco-based company’s international sales fortunes changed about a year ago, with sales expanding to more than 10 countries, including the Middle East.
Mike Boyder, who handles sales for Purity Organics, credits Grovara, a Bethlehem company incubating at Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania, for boosting its exports.
“Grovara helps handle all the things that I don’t know about, frankly,” Boyder said, noting the company helped Purity on matters such as translating its product labels for non-English speaking countries. “We don’t have an export department. They are proving to be a good partner.”
CEO Peter Groverman and President Abu Kamara run Grovara out of two locations, in Ben Franklin’s TechVentures incubator on Lehigh University’s Mountaintop Campus and in Philadelphia.
The company is developing a web-based platform to facilitate international distribution of made-in-the-USA natural foods, beverages and other packaged consumer goods. The goal: Connect small- and medium-size American companies with international buying partners by lowering the global trade barriers companies often encounter.
The company connects U.S. sellers with global buyers seeking U.S. products, say Groverman, 34, and Kamara, 35.
“This company,” Groverman said, pointing to a Purity Organic bottle, “fabulous product. And someone from Japan wants their product. Purity says, ‘No time, man, we’re trying to get out product in every airport and domestic stores … maybe in five years.'”
Foreign consumers also crave international products, Groverman said.
“We’re promoting America abroad,” he said.
While President Donald Trump has railed early on against trade deals — he canceled the Trans-Pacific Partnership and wants to renegotiate NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement — Groverman and Kamara believe his presidency could be marked by increasing the U.S. export business.
Since the start of the National Export Initiative, the Obama-administration effort launched to promote American exports abroad, merchandise exports from U.S. metropolitan areas increased 42 percent to $1.3 trillion in 2015 compared with the 2009 figure of $936 billion, according to the U.S. Commerce Department.
Companies in the local metro area — which consists of Lehigh, Northampton, Carbon and Warren, N.J., counties — exported $3.44 billion in products in 2015, shattering the previous year’s record by 9 percent, or $287 million, the Commerce Department said in September.
However, Groverman and Kamara cite other Commerce Department data that shows fewer than 5 percent of U.S. companies export their merchandise, while the overseas middle-class population has increased by 1 billion in the last 10 years.
The duo see a growing market for manufacturers in the Lehigh Valley and beyond that are looking to sell their goods overseas. As for Grovara’s growth, Groverman said he hopes to add five full-time employees by year’s end.
Expanding exports also can can mean more U.S. jobs, according to Groverman and experts who deal with international trade, a point Trump has strongly expressed in his “Make America Great Again” slogan.
In November, Ben Franklin announced a $100,000 investment in state-funded public dollars for Grovara. Groverman said the money is going toward developing the company’s e-commerce platform, which they hope will be ready in the spring. He said Grovara currently operates its platform with “third-party applications.”
“We often encourage our companies to look for a niche,” said Wayne Barz, manager of entrepreneurial services at Ben Franklin, in explaining the tech group’s investment. Ben Franklin will help connect Grovara company with Pennsylvania- and U.S.-based food manufacturers, Barz said.
“So few manufacturers do exporting,” Barz said. “It’s complicated; they don’t know the people, language and cultural barriers. These guys [Groverman and Kamara] have codified a lot of that and make it easier for companies.”
James Chan, who has advised companies about marketing products to China and Asia for more than three decades, says the Commerce Department has been nudging U.S. companies to export since the 1960s, but results have been lacking.
“Exporting is always good to an economy,” said Chan, president of Asian Marketing and Management in Philadelphia. “But exporting is no easy task.”
Chan said Grovara’s business model “makes good, logical sense. But Grovara has to prove to its manufacturer-clients that they can produce results, not just talk up a good game.”
Since starting the company in 2012, Groverman said Grovara has distributed approximately 3,000 consumer products, such as Purity’s drinks, organically sweetened candy, coconut milk and more in 40 countries.
Boyder said it’s too early to say how much Grovara’s work has meant in terms of growing sales for Purity Organics.
“We’ve had initial success, and we have to see how that continues,” he said.
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Locations: Ben Franklin TechVentures, 116 Research Drive, Bethlehem; the company also has an office at the DreamIt business hub in Philadelphia.
Top officials: Peter Groverman, CEO; Abu Kamara, president
What it does: Grovara works with U.S. companies to facilitate international distribution of made-in-the-USA natural foods, beverages and other packaged consumer goods.
Interesting tidbit: The name Grovara comes from portions of the chief officers’ last names: “Grov” for Groverman and “ara: for Kamara.
Source: Grovara LLC
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