Export Marketing Research in Japan saves Natural Medicines company from expensive mistake

BeeVital was established in 2002 to promote natural medicine, specifically propolis-based products (made by honey-bees). A family business, BeeVital is based in Whitby, North Yorkshire.

Export was important to BeeVital from the outset

The market for propolis products is niche and, with a well-established dominant brand already saturating the UK market, BeeVital planned to export from day one. “Our strategy was to focus on South-East Asia”, explained Hugo Fearnley, BeeVital’s Business Development Director, “Japan, South Korea and Singapore were our target markets”.

BeeVital’s initial approach to export was to work through a distributor

BeeVital’s International Trade Adviser (ITA), Alistair Gardner, worked with the local UKTI team in South Korea to help Hugo find a suitable distributor for the Propolis products. “This approach seems to be working in this smaller market”, explained Hugo.

Japan is the largest market for propolis products; BeeVital needed the best proposition to succeed.

When BeeVital wanted to continue their export expansion into Japan, Hugo contacted UKTI again. Alistair recommended the Export Marketing Research Scheme (EMRS) which provides professional advice to encourage businesses to undertake market research before approaching overseas markets for sales.

“If I’m honest, what I really wanted was some funding. However, the result was so much more valuable than just money!”

Hugo met with Richard Gilbert, Research Adviser for the North East. Richard helped Hugo to plan the research. “We began by clearly identifying what we wanted from the research, and what information we would need. Next, Richard gave us advice on desk research and finally we created a ‘wish list’ of who could give us information in Japan”. BeeVital worked with Alastair and the UKTI team in Japan to arrange a series of face-to-face meetings.

I don’t like to think how much money we might have wasted on a poorly researched market entry into Japan, but it would certainly have been in the tens of thousands”

In the spring of 2014, Hugo travelled to Japan and spent five days meeting with academics, producers, trade organisations, potential customers and trade magazines, getting a truly broad picture of what was happening in the market. In every meeting, he was accompanied by UKTI’s local Senior Trade Adviser – Life Sciences & Chemicals- and an interpreter.

“Analysing our findings, it was clear the opportunity was huge!” explained Hugo. “However, we unearthed some vital pieces of information about the market; it was clear that we would need to target a slightly different market sector and redevelop some of our ranges before approaching the market”. Hugo also realised there was little room for mistakes in this fastidious market. “The research really helped us to understand the Japanese opportunity and what we needed to do to succeed in this important market”.

BeeVital now has a blueprint for success in Japan

Hugo created a document summarising the market research findings, “it’s proven such a useful reference document for the whole business and we revisit this summary each time we plan our next steps”. The Japanese propolis market alone is worth around £175 million, so gaining even a small percentage of this market will have a huge impact on BeeVital’s success. The team are currently working on reformulating relevant products and refining the business proposition before finalising the best route to market.

“The whole EMRS process was great”, explained Hugo, “It helped us access knowledge about the Japanese market we would otherwise not have gleaned. It’s like the old saying, ‘knowledge is power’; the EMRS has given us the power to run our business more successfully!” 

Fast facts

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Sectors: Healthcare & Medical
Countries: Japan
Topics: Export Planning, Getting Started, and Market Research
Export Action Plan