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Export : the big WORD for a small and medium food manufacturer!

Expanding food industry sales channels beyond the retail market, is key. Let’s play a little game. You have to present your three years sales strategic plan meeting in less than a month, to your boss…. You were hired to make a difference and thus act accordingly. Pressure is on. Deja vu? You have to put a plan on growing outside of your current and mature national retail market. EXPORT will help you make that big difference. As Porter writes, you can’t dominate the home market, rivals are forced to compete internationally. 

Wait a minute, where to start? How not to get lost and overuse already scarce ressources chasing ghosts? Which products line should I emphasize ? And who is going to handle that extra work ?

As you can imagine there are no easy answers to all these questions. What you have to do, is to put a simple working process.

First = How not to get lost, and target the perfect country for your products. Be very humble. Remember, nobody is expecting you, and don’t overextend yourself and your resources. Start answering a simple question : is your own culture close to one of your neighboring countries’? In another word : do you speak the same or a very similar language than your neighbors or targeted countries? Furthermore, do you have the same general tastes buds? Well, as long as they are not under any economic turmoil and do follow the rules of law… I would start there, and forget about the rest of the world for the next few years. Sometimes none of your neighbors speak your language… Than the first question becomes : where is the money! Thus, which one of your neighbors has the most disposable income for imported foods ? Do they have a well developed retail market with department stores, big shopping malls, or sometimes just a strong tradition for importing fancy food from abroad?

Second = Which product line? Most critical point, you need an angle! A major food product differentiation. Look for your product core know-how. What brought you success in your local market? Try to emulate that to your targeted countries. Also remember foodservice is way faster and easier to penetrate, in a matter of few month, but in the meantime don’t forget that large retail chains will need a good year of work before starting to buy from you. If you can, try to target both channels at the same time: Retail and Food Service of your targeted country, so no time is wasted in retail alone. Another important question, which product line brings the most margins per sale? The goal is always to generate a profit. Export is good for that. When possible….., look for volume generators, you want to promote items with short life time, and repetitions. Last but not least, be prepare to adapt your recipes to your neighbors food taste buds. Some like it sweet, some like it sour. There is a good chance you will have to adapt your recipes.

Third = How to use my scarce resources ? Well, you need some basic ones first. But believe me, Export is a very good motivating tool for your current teams. They can gain so much by accepting to work that new channel for your company. You will have to do some sell-in, but Export is sexy. All the people in place can make a difference, and it is great for their resumes. OK, you will need at least some Sales, R&D, Quality and Marketing available time. Sales/Export to take the lead, prepare and coordinate the coming action. Marketing to collect local market data (targets, consumers habits), and help you prepare the flyers and Export trade show that are coming your ways. Quality department for the labels to make, packaging specifications, regulations info to collect. R&D to check the local product samples brought back, and to adapt and prepare your own food samples. At the beginning you need to test the market, react, adapt your local strategy until your food product offering sticks with your export customers. In the process, all of your teams, Sales, Marketing, Quality, R&D will be happy to finally position your company on the world map. 

Please, do you homework before your first major customer presentation. « You never get a second chance to make a first impression », especially abroad where absolutely nobody is expecting you.

Finally, consumers travel so much around the world nowadays, they want to find home that delicious sauce, or that awesome chocolate bit, or that incredible pastry discovered while traveling in your home country. In food, as Friedman would write « the world is flat ». Take advantage of it.


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