Pasta, pastries and wine. Here’s how Port Manatee is helping get them to your table

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SeaPort Manatee, which handles 10 million tons of rough-hewn, broad-shouldered cargo a year, also has a more nurturing side.

The port encourages the development of new business, sometimes on the mom-and-pop level, through its International Trade Hub.

Among the newest are Sergio Francone’s Alba Distribution, which imports Italian and Argentinian wines as well as Italian pasta, and Orietta Foods, which produces Arepas Rolitas, a Colombian street food snack.

Both companies are in their infancy at SeaPort Manatee.

“The International Trade Hub at SeaPort Manatee is focused on providing an incubator or a soft landing space for companies looking to enter the U.S. market. These are companies that otherwise would stay in Miami or look for other parts of the country,” said Carlos Buqueras, the port’s executive director.

Through the hub, the port can show international businesses that Manatee, Sarasota and the Tampa Bay area are perfect locations to enter the U.S. market, Buqueras said.

Trade commissioners representing countries around the world have become regular visitors at SeaPort Manatee.

“I am happy they are trying to help me. I am new in the United States with no other family here except my wife and kids,” said Francone, a 42-year-old native of Argentina who lived in Italy for five years.

What the International Trade Hub was able to offer Francone was warehouse space in the Intermodal Building at SeaPort Manatee and the promise of introductions to potential buyers.

Ivan Mutis, CEO of GML Strategic Consultancy for New Markets, will help introduce Francone to local retailers, and then the rest is up to Francone.

“This is good pasta,” Francone said as he stood among palates of Granoro-brand products at SeaPort Manatee. “Granoro is the fifth-largest pasta company in Italy. The biggest difference is that in Italy there are no GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in the pasta. They are not allowed in the European community.”

Mutis, who works at SeaPort Manatee but is not a port employee, has been a key player in helping show foreign companies that there is an alternative to port facilities in Miami, and that the Bradenton area is a good place to do business.

Mutis also has a hand in Orietta Foods, and with Marina Besada Lombana manages the company’s Arepas Rolitas operation in Bradenton.

Rolitas are a grilled corn patty that have either a meat or sweet filling, such as guava and mozzarella. Initially, Manatee Technical College offered assistance in making the first Bradenton-area rolitas.

Today, in what Mutis calls a cooperative initiative, they are made at Sugar Cubed Pastry Lab, which is located at 531 13th St. W. in Bradenton. Also helping in the production are Tara Allison of Sweets Bakehouse and baker Andy Westberry.

“For now we are making small quantities, selling to Bulk Food Superstore in Sun City Center and the Quadro Supermarket in Tampa,” Besada Lombana said, adding that a version for the Miami market is also being developed.

It is significant that the trade hub has been a catalyst for business growth opportunities in downtown Bradenton, Buqueras said.

Five years ago, the hub did not exist at SeaPort Manatee.

Among the food companies that now have a presence there are Bunland, Ataraxia and Mia, makers of specialty Colombian coffees; DC Frozen Fruit, which produces frozen fruit pulp and frozen fruit; Mangata, which markets Spanish olive oil; and L&H Export of El Salvador, which markets coconuts.

“Food companies have become a cluster of opportunities,” Buqueras said. “When you go to supermarkets, you’re selling them not just pasta, you’re selling them wine and other products. It is becoming a significant segment of the product line of the hub.”