New Federal Program Allows Connecticut Business to Expand Overseas

Jan 22, 2016

The U.S. Commerce Department is helping out with free market research.
Credit Harriet Jones

Expanding overseas is a goal for many Connecticut businesses. A new program aims to give them the data to break into foreign markets. 

Sheffield Pharmaceuticals has been a fixture in New London since it began in a dentist’s office in 1850, with a rather striking claim to fame: it was the first company to put toothpaste in a tube.

“The story goes that Dr Sheffield’s son was in Paris, learning how to paint, and saw the tubes of oil paint, and thought it would be great to put Sheffield Toothpaste in a tube,” said Chief Operating Officer Jeff Davis.

Now the company makes not only toothpaste and other consumer products but medicines like topical antibiotics and hydrocortisone creams. And for some pretty big customers. “Our Sheffield product is in Walmart," said Davis. "We also make Walmart’s Equate brand. CVS is another great customer, Walgreens, all the major drug retailers.”

But one of the ways they want to grow is overseas. Right now about three percent of their sales come from 20 countries; the aim is to grow that to at least eight percent, and expand to some 58 countries. Sheffield is getting help from the U.S. Commerce Department, which is providing free, customized market research. “It really tells you what volumes are on certain products, and what sells,” said Davis.

Congressman Joe Courtney with Sheffield COO Jeff Davis
Credit Harriet Jones / WNPR

That sort of insight is invaluable for companies that can’t afford to waste time on unproductive markets. The program also helps businesses through the sometimes convoluted foreign registration process, and introduces them to distributors. “Because 95 percent of the consumers are outside of the U.S.,” said Anne Evans of the Commerce Department. “We need to grow our small businesses, and I like to say we’re kind of the fertilizer - we’re here to make their roots deeper and their blooms bigger.” 

After a bruising few days for Connecticut’s business reputation with the loss of General Electric, Congressman Joe Courtney said we need to refocus on our strengths. “We’ve really got to get people together and recognize that there’s a tremendous amount of competition out there," he told WNPR. "And we’ve got a lot to market and sell the state in terms of it’s quality of life and the educated workforce that we have here. But it’s not going to happen by itself.”

Meanwhile, Sheffield is hoping its next big break will be into China.