Cochran Fellow Launches American Food Festival in Sri Lanka

American Food Festival promotional displays welcomed Sri Lankan shoppers at 57 Keells Super store locations.

For one Sri Lankan entrepreneur, participation in the Foreign Agricultural Service’s (FAS) Cochran Fellowship Program provided the training and inspiration that led him to develop the first-ever retail promotion of American food in his home country. 

The American Food Festival was the brainchild of Cochran fellow Muhammed Mifrah Firdowsky Ismail of JayKay Marketing. The 15-day event took place at 57 Keells Super store locations across Sri Lanka, offering consumers a 10-percent discount on 39 U.S. food products. The success of the promotion resulted in an average 54-percent sales increase for the featured products, with several products – including gummy candies, ice cream toppings and novelty cereals – experiencing triple-digit growth in sales.

The success of the American Food Festival would not have been possible without the Cochran program. As a Cochran fellow, Ismail attended the Food Marketing Institute’s (FMI) annual trade show in Chicago, where he participated in seminars on U.S. retail requirements and met one-on-one with U.S. suppliers, retailers and wholesalers to discuss the logistics involved with importing and marketing U.S. products.  

Convenient product displays throughout the Keells Super stores showcased the U.S. food items during the American Food Festival.

Following the FMI show, Ismail traveled with the Cochran program to Minnesota and North Dakota where he toured a wide variety of food and beverage retailers such as Whole Foods, Costco, Hornbachers and Sam’s Club. This first-hand experience with American-made products and retail strategies gave him a better idea of the types of U.S. products that could be purchased for the Sri Lankan consumer market. Sri Lanka is considered a small but growing market for imported consumer food products through its tourism and hospitality sectors, new restaurants and upscale food retailers.  

After returning home, Ismail continued working with the FAS Office of Agricultural Affairs in New Delhi, India, to develop and launch the American Food Festival. On the heels of its success, he plans to partner with FAS on additional projects to improve and expand Sri Lankans’ access to high-quality U.S. goods.

The Cochran program has trained more than 17,500 fellows from 125-plus countries since its inception more than 30 years ago. The program provides hands-on training and research opportunities to improve participants’ technical knowledge and skills in areas related to agricultural trade, agribusiness development, management, policy and marketing.