Fritos! Fig Newtons! Chicken Dogs! Enchiladas! Blackberry Syrup! The United States Department of Agriculture brings American "processed foods" to Eygpt. As part of its extensive program to promote the sale of U.S. agricultural products abroad, the departments Foreign Agricultural Service organized a major food exhibition here late last month.
About 75 American food producers and exporters, ranging from Nabisco to the Decoster Egg Farms of Turner, Maine, came to display their wares in hopes of cracking the Egyptian market. Even the Georgia Farm Bureau was here, pushing Georgia peanuts with free samples and little gold-colored peanut pins.
The economic outcome may not be known for some time. But it certainly a social success as the Agriculture Department staff and the U.S. embassy brough together sellers and prospective buyers at a lavish cocktail party and buffet that featured American food, from beef Wellington to chicken a la king and canned corn. It's hard to say who ate more hungrily - the Egyptians to whom such things are expensive rarities or the resident Americans who remember them nostalgically.
The flashiest displays were for the nonesential and luxury items - soft drinks, candy, cookies, maraschino cherries, snack food, luncheon meats. The 38 million Egyptians love them all, but the Agriculture Department estimate no more than 10 per cent can afford the expensive imported versions.
For the purveyors of these products, the Egyptian market is unknown territory that may or may not bring them any orders. This is a country without a single Western-style supermarket, where self-service and choice among competing brands are rare and where few consumers have the extra cash to pay for American snack foods priced to turn a profit for producer, exporter, shipper, banker and retailer.
Still, according to Leon Begleiter of Brewster, Leeds, inc., which acts as export agent for several American food processors, "We want to have a foothold for the day the economy here improves, which most of the exhibitors apparently believe it will." He acknowledged that the Egyptians don't need and can't afford most of what he has to sell, but said, "If we don't play Eve, Adam will never fall."
Less interested in the consumer market and more interested in big orders from government agencies and state-controlled outlets were the processors of institutional foods and the mass-producers of essentials such as eggs and vegetable oils. The Egyptian government makes massive purchases of these items for distribution in its state-run, subsidized grocery stores and for use in the army, schools, hospitals and prisons. Up t now the U.S. has been virtually shut out of this market but the embassy here spent a year arranging for government purchasing agents to come to the show and see what the Americans have to offer.
A Georgia poultry cooperative, for example, sought the order for five tons of frozen chicken that Egypt wants to import this summer. A subsidiary of Nabisco is trying to interest the government in soy-enriched crackers for school lunches.
Edythe Robertson represented Blue Star Foods Inc. of Council Bluffs, Iowa, whose display included dozens of olive drap cans that bore a suspicious resemblance to the military K rations of unlamented memory. They even had the familiar inverted nomenclature unique to the military - "Turkey, boned or meal, Individual."
"I envision the military market," she said, "or hunters, people going through the desert." She was a field dietitian in the Korean War, she said, and learned there that combat stress leads to high levels of blood cholesterol, so all their military food products are specially processed to be nearly fat free.
Blue Star Foods also offered what she called "a very interesting product," labeled "cooked beef and hydrated textured vegetable protein dices in brown sauce."
That's beef reinforced with soy - more protein for the money for those who can't afford enough meat, she said. "You keep trying to do something for the have-nots of the world," she said, "but you can't even get it down low enough in cost."
The manager of the show was Edward Collins of Arlington, Va., trade development officer for the Middle East in Agriculture's Export Trade Services Division.
"We're here to show the flag," he said. "Our job is to bring the buyer and the seller together." Collins said the exhibitors know that "Egypt has balanced-of-payments difficulties, but with 40 million people it's the largest potential market in the Middle East." In richer Arab countries, such as Saudi Arabia, American convenience foods are immensely popular in the modern supermarkets. It will take at least a year, Collins said, before it is known whether they will catch on in Egypt.
The U.S. exported $453.7 million worth of agricultural products to Egypt last year, but most of that was bulk grain and tobacco financed by the U.S. government under the Food for Peace program.