Alpine Distilling owner represents Utah in U.S. Department of Agriculture trade mission | ParkRecord.com

Alpine Distilling owner represents Utah in U.S. Department of Agriculture trade mission

Rob Sergent recently returned from a trade mission with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to South Africa. He was one of 30 business representatives from the U.S. who attended.

While sitting down to chat with the owners of a distillery in South Africa, Rob Sergent realized he had more in common with them than he was expecting.

The South African business he toured was run by a couple striving to make the best products they could, just like Sergent is at Alpine Distilling in Park City. Getting to know people from across the globe was Sergent's No. 1 takeaway from a recent week-long trade mission, which was organized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Sergent, founder and owner of Alpine Distilling, was one of 34 business representatives invited on the trip to Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa. Ted McKinney, Under Secretary of Agriculture for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs, also attended the trade mission and Andy Pierucci, the director of marketing, communications and economic division at the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, was the only other representative from Utah.

The goal of the trip — and most every trade mission — was to build relationships across countries and increase exports of U.S. products to international markets, Sergent said. It was the third time Sergent had participated in a trip of this kind. He traveled to Hong Kong and Shanghai in 2016 with the Distilled Spirits Council through invitation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Sergent said the trips have been successful in more ways than one. He met one of his importers while in Shanghai, and he is confident that more partnerships will come to fruition because of the trip to South Africa. Through discussions with McKinney, he also learned more about U.S. trade policies, which he said was informative.

But he said his favorite part of the trade mission was not the prospect of increased business. Instead, he enjoyed visiting with farmers and cattle ranchers to bond over struggles that exist across cultures and continents, like water and land management. He found common ground with not only South African farmers, but with business owners from all over the U.S.

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"What was exciting for me was … the chance to reconnect with farmers, the chance to reconnect with the soul and the epicenter of what we do," he said. "I was halfway around the world, but meeting with people and connecting on a level that was really great."

Sometimes, Sergent said, the food and beverage industry can be competitive, especially in the wine and spirits world. So it was a nice change of pace to come together and find commonalities.

He said it was an honor to represent Utah in that capacity, and he hopes to have the chance again soon.