Why this is important to Wisconsin businesses: Rising consumption of both convenience and health foods provides opportunities for exporters.

Panama’s economy continues to grow steadily, supported by both investment and consumer spending. Real GDP projected growth in 2017 was 5.8 percent, following a 5.2 percent increase in 2016.  Panama has the highest per capita GDP on a purchasing power parity (PPP) basis in Central America, at $22,800 (2016). Key growth sectors include transportation, telecommunications, commerce and tourism.

Panama is the third-largest market in Central America for U.S. agricultural products. Total U.S. exports of agricultural products to Panama in 2016 totaled $670 million, an increase of 3 percent. The 2017 figure is estimated at just over $700 million. Consumer food products continue to be the most important category of U.S. agricultural exports there, totaling $388.4 million in 2016, nearly 58 percent of the agricultural total and up 3 percent from 2015. Panama is the largest export market in Central America for processed food products from the U.S., having also imported $371.2 million in processed foods from the U.S in 2016—up 5 percent, and 55 percent of the agricultural total. Top processed food exports to Panama in 2016 included food preparations, non-alcoholic beverages, snack foods, processed prepared/dairy products, chocolate and confectionery, prepared/preserved meats, and beer and wine.

Panama continues to be an attractive market for U.S. food products, especially for the food service sector. The country’s major logistical facilities, such as the Panama Canal and ports on both oceans, make it an important hub in the Americas. Major hotels, fine restaurants and international corporations have a home in Panama, and a large expat community fuels demand for food, beverages and agricultural products imported from the U.S. The Panamanian market offers good opportunities for additives, preservatives, flavorings, vegetable colorings, sauces, condiments, grains (wheat, corn and rice), semi-processed products such as soybean meal and soybean oil, and a wide a range of high-quality, consumer-oriented products such as bakery products, snacks, ready-to-eat products, beverages, breakfast cereals, sugar confectionery and food preparations, gourmet food products, and low-fat, sugar-free and fat-free food products, because most of the food products found in the supermarkets are not processed locally.

In recent years, rising consumption of both convenience foods and health foods has been the trend, resulting in strong prospects for U.S. exports of fresh fruit (mainly apples, grapes, peaches and pears), organic foods, processed fruits and vegetables (especially canned fruits), and snack foods (including corn chips, popcorn, cookies and candy). Strong demand exists for imports of processed canned fruits and vegetables, especially mixed fruits, mixed vegetables, sweet corn, peas, mushrooms and garbanzo beans.

The majority of consumer food imports in Panama are purchased through a local importer, distributor or wholesaler. It is common practice for larger Panamanian retailers to assume the role of the middleman and cover all or most aspects of the product supply chain.

The Americas Food &and Beverage Show, held annually in September in Miami, is the largest food and beverage trade event in the Western Hemisphere, but the 2017 event was canceled due to the effects of Hurricane Irma. In 2016, more than 11,000 people attended from 92 countries. The trade show is particularly interesting for attracting potential customers and distributors from Central America, including Panama. The 22nd Americas Food and Beverage Show will be held Oct. 1-2, 2018, in the Miami Beach Convention Center. Companies seeking to enter the Panamanian market as well as other Latin American markets, should consider attending.