How to find a niche in international markets

In September 2015 Open to Export hosted the ‘How to find a niche in international markets’ webinar as part of the annual Food and Drink feature month with Steve Barnes (Food and Drink Federation) and Elsa Fairbanks (Food and Drink Exporters Association) giving advice and an overview of the food and drink landscape and Nigel Bryan (Lizi’s Granlola) sharing his experiences as an exporter.

The major talking points

The key takeaways from the webinar were the following:

The food and drink export opportunity is vast with £19bn worth of exports last year and 400,000 employed in the sector. However, only 10% of food and drink businesses are currently exporting compared to 40% in Ireland.

Health and wellbeing niche is huge on a global scale – worth £400bn – and one which the UK leads on. The premium and tiered niche of products has also been a successful one for UK companies.

Look at what niches are out there and see where you fit in. Whether it be health and wellbeing, ethical/green products, online or for particular age groups, find your niche audience.

Look at the range of retail channels available whether it be mainstream channels like supermarkets and discounters or less immediate options like hotels, cruise ships, or expat communities.

Look at the websites of major retailers in your chosen markets as they will give you a lot of information about pricing, labelling, distributors and so on which can help shape your export strategy.

But be prepared to ‘tramp’ markets around the world – go to these places and get a sense of what’s in the shops, what prices they’re being sold out, what the local tastes are and talk to potential new customers.

Keep your distributors close – try to find small distributors and get their owner on side because you want your distributors to be as dedicated to your product as you are.

Questions and Answers

As usual, attendees gave some excellent questions to which the speakers gave informative answers. Here are the questions and the answers given to them (with the time they are addressed in brackets):

Do you need to translate labelling on products for the Chinese market? (44:20)

Put simply yes. You need to comply with Chinese import licenses, but don’t rule out your distributor taking care of this as part of your arrangement with them.

Can you get your distributor to manage your social media in that country? (46:19)
Lizi’s Granola hire a PR agency to handle their social media, but distributors do email in questions which he forwards onto the agency.

How do you find the distributor who is appropriate for your niche? (47:27)

Depends on the market but people will generally approach you at tradeshows. You can also see who the big distributors are in your market by looking at the labelling on your competitors’ products in some markets.

When is it appropriate to chase a customer for payment? (49:14)

Depends on the market, but in some markets you will definitely want to take the payment upfront.

How do you find out which tradeshows to go to? (51:40)

Depends on what markets or niche you’re looking into. The FDEA site has a lot of the tradeshows which have UKTI involvement. Also check out the biggest shows like Anuga.

What are the best sources of export information for food and drink companies? (54:00)

The FDEA and FDF are useful but also ‘tramping’ the markets themselves is an invaluable source of information and learnings.

Do you stock in the UK or worldwide? (55:45)

Lizi’s Granola stock in the UK and ship out to distributors. They do not supply to the retailer direct.

Export Action Plan