What type of food or drink related product or service is most likely to do well overseas? It could be tea to China (or potatoes to Ireland as UK company Corkers Crisps has recently done) or, on the other hand, traditional British pies to Europe. In other words, if you’ve got a product or service that sells well in the UK the chances are there’s also an export market for it.
You can probably think of many reasons not to take the plunge into exporting. You might be satisfied with the level of sales you’re making in the UK. Maybe you don’t want to deal with the perceived hassle of regulations, paperwork and cultural barriers. You could think exporting is a risky venture in uncertain times or you might be interested but just don’t know where to start.
Exporting reduces risk as it protects a business if the UK demand for a product or service falls. Of course any business venture carries an element of risk and you’ll need to weigh export opportunities carefully. But trading internationally can add more security than risk to your business.
And there are many reasons to export besides profit. Operating in new markets will mean you’re more likely to be aware of emerging needs of that market and new opportunities that may arise. All of this exposure makes for a sharper UK business that’s more innovative and better able to maintain a competitive position in your sector and exporting also enhances your business’s profile, whether for new clients at home or ones abroad
But where to start? Firstly you need to decide where and how to sell your products or services overseas. Research shows that one in three companies thinking of exporting has no idea what markets to choose. It’s a good idea to start with an activity that’s easily manageable and a country close to home where doing business is most similar to the UK, such as Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark. All these countries use English as a business language and are easily accessible. So consider initially focusing on a couple of target countries you’d like to export to, then decide how best to market and sell to customers in those countries taking into consideration issues such as legal, financial and cultural differences. Beetroot ketchup supplier The Foraging Fox plumped for Sweden for their first target. “Sweden is great for us because they love beetroot, they love sauces and they love barbecues,” says the company’s Desiree Parker. This has been proven by the fact they’ve recently completed their third order to the country
Route to market
Potential exporters should also consider the most suitable route to market for their product or service. If, for example, you’re already selling online, expanding this to overseas markets would be a good place to start. Recognising the increasingly key role online sales are playing, the Department for International Trade (DIT) has developed an E-Exporting programme that helps businesses find suitable major online marketplaces in other countries, assists with listing products on these marketplaces, many of which offer special terms negotiated by DIT.
Other ways to market to consider are selling through agents and distributors, selling direct, contractual methods such as licensing or franchising or setting up an overseas operation. However you plan to export, you can register with the new find a buyer service on the www. great.gov.uk website, a brand new searchable directory of UK exporters that matches products and services with worldwide demand. Since it launched towards the end of last year hundreds of companies have signed up.
Think about your unique selling point and what features about your product and service will really appeal to customers in the market you’re targeting. You may need to consider modifications to satisfy overseas requirements – from legal ones like standards, to labelling and packaging, to differing tastes. Research is also key. You can do this online but market visits might also be worth the outlay. Trade missions are a very effective way to do this.
DIT trade experts are able to help with activities related to trade missions, as well as with market research and market visits.
Essex company the Grown Up Chocolate Company found out through research early on that the French are insistent on having a viewing window into their food products, so were able to create a product that appealed immediately to that market.
Another East Anglian company, Wick’s Manor Farm, found that many Asian customers loved the taste of British style products, but wanted to be able to boil them, so the company developed the products so they could.
“British food has got a real kudos abroad, where it’s seen as a quality product. We’re riding on the back of that. You get so much so cheaply with DIT, giving you an insight into the mechanics of exporting.” James Ecclestone, The Grown Up Chocolate Company
In Germany the whole bakery display is changed several times a day. This approach appeals to morning customers, afternoon customers coming in for café and kuchen and those shopping for their evening meal. It’s a combination of what they buy, when and how often.
In China most people buy fresh fruit and vegetables from the market every day after work. In the USA, people have a high degree of ready cash and plenty of space, so they buy in bulk. Many food & drink companies have achieved their first success via overseas trade shows. Huntingdon-based We Love Man Food for example recently made its first overseas contacts at UK trade shows, which led to exhibitions in Belgium and France. This in turn has led to sales in the Netherlands and Belgium, and a lot of very promising new enquiries from across the globe.