Enterprise Europe Network

Top tips for food exporters

fine food retailers

If you are working in the food and drink industry and are thinking of exporting to another country, then the Enterprise Europe Network is a great source of potential agents, distributors and suppliers.

Finding someone who is keen to import a product like yours is only the first step. The process of sending and sharing samples provides a vital first impression for your potential business partner and there are a number of common mistakes and errors that can easily be avoided.

Ahead of Tavola 2018, the international trade fair for fine food retailers and delicatessens, take a look at our top tips for food exporters—we hope they’ll help increase your chances of securing a buyer and taking that next step into international trade.

1. Be professional

This seems obvious, but can sometimes slip by during busy times. For example, respond to emails quickly and don’t disappear on holidays for a month with no indication that you have left (a polite "Out of Office reply" is a must). Receiving imported goods for local clients requires absolute reliability. Make sure you are sending the right message (and swiftly). Remember you are asking them to replace an existing supplier with yourself, someone they may have had a business relationship with for decades. Taking you on board will require significant paperwork and effort—so you’ll need to show how reliable you are from the first email.

2. Set a realistic price

Although it is tempting to consider that your export price should be the same as your wholesale price, it is important to remember that exporting has extra costs like shipping, insurance and the importer margin. Your export price should always be below the wholesale price you set within your own country.

3. What you see is what you get

Make sure the sample that you send is exactly what would go on the shelf. Avoid putting it in the wrong bottle or with an irregular label. The packaging is as important as the product—so make sure it is correct.

4. Send the ingredients

The sample has to include the ingredients of the product, and the label and ingredients must be in the language of the country you are sending it to.

5. Consider the marketplace

Consider whether your product is one of many in the marketplace. Olive oil is again a good example—there are many, many competing olive oil products throughout Europe. If this is what your family has been producing for decades then it’s not suggested that you change it, but simply be aware that this may be why you have not been successful exporting it.

6. Have a strong Unique Selling Point

Even if the market isn’t swamped by a particular product (as in the case of olive oil) it can still be difficult exporting your product unless it has an appealing Unique Selling Point (USP). If it is a common product then consider ways in which it could be made more appealing—can it be made organic, vegan, low salt, low sugar? Is it a new flavour, with a better price, better packaging, or utilising new technologies? Remember that for suppliers, replacing an existing product with a different brand requires a big commitment—you may be asking them to replace a brand that retailers and customers are already happy with. Give them a good reason to use your brand.

7. Do your research

It may be that your product name would be considered inappropriate in another culture, or that a particular food item infused with alcohol would be considered unpalatable in a different country. Ask your local Enterprise Europe Network representative to ask a few questions to their colleagues in the targeted country. A little bit of casual market research can go a long way.

8. Taste is a matter of taste

Finally, accept with grace that the taste of food is also to some degree subjective. It may be that the importer simply doesn’t like the taste of your product, but is trying not to say so directly for fear of offending what might be a family business. As an Australian I like Vegemite, but most Europeans find it disgusting (as disgusting in fact, as I Danish salted liquorice, for instance).

Are you ready?

What is encouraging is how many of the mistakes above can be quickly and easily rectified. It may help you get closer to your exporting goals in a tricky, difficult but nevertheless exciting global market.

Take a look at the upcoming Tour d’Europe – meet the buyer brokerage event organised by the Enterprise Europe Network at Tavola 2018. The event, which takes place on Monday 12 and Tuesday 13 March consists of face-to-face buyer-producer meetings based on specific requests from the buyers. Skype meetings are also possible.

About the author

This article was written by Tim Benzie with key insights from a Network client in the food industry. Tim Benzie is a Business Partnership Consultant at Greenwich Research and Enterprise, a member of the Enterprise Europe Network. Tim helps companies and researchers in the South-East of England make links with partners in Europe to take their innovation further.

Get in touch with your local Enterprise Europe Network representative to see how we can help your business innovate and grow internationally.

Updated on 2 March 2018