Sizzling in South East Asia

 

With his premier sausage range flying off the shelves across Asia, Charles Baughan, Managing Director of Devon-based Westaway Sausages shares his insights into doing business in Asia and tells how they became the first European importer of Meat Products to Japan for 50 years!

We produce authentic English pork sausages for retail and foodservice and are always looking for ways to innovate and expand our range in order to grow our business in the UK and overseas. With our focus on quality and professionalism we were recently awarded the accolade of 2012 UK Small Meat and Poultry Processor of the Year.

We are firmly committed to exports and Asia is very important to our success. We have been trading in Asia for four years and our sausages are now enjoyed in countries as diverse as China, Macau, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, and Malaysia. Sales are growing strongly in Asia and now account for 5% of our business

It is thrilling to be doing so well in these far-flung markets; however you certainly need plenty of energy, passion and dedication to keep up with the pace of change and opportunities in Asia.

It has been invaluable to have partners and experts both here in the UK and in the Asian markets on board who share my commitment and long-term view to growing our business in Asia. We have worked with UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) through its Passport to Export programme and have benefitted from the support of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) whose resources and expertise have really steered us in the right direction.

Our story in Asia started back in 2008 when by a stroke of good fortune we were contacted by a friend with a great networking opportunity. A group of buyers from Hong Kong were visiting the UK and as one of their appointments had dropped out, we were asked to step in and take their place. Of course we jumped at the chance to showcase our produce to these buyers and following a visit to our factory in Devon, we were overwhelmed by their response; every single buyer wanted to stock our sausages!

In the end one distributor agreed to represent us in this market and supply the other interested parties and it wasn’t long before I was on a plane to Hong Kong for a ten day visit. It was a great opportunity to actually see our products on the shelves and how they were presented, meet consumers and get their feedback through in-store demonstrations and spend time with our new distributor focusing on our marketing and business development strategy.

One thing was clear from that visit; there were drawbacks in our existing packaging. When selling a product over 7,000 miles from home, getting the right packaging is paramount. So we quickly redesigned it to better demonstrate the origins and provenance of our sausages and to explain the differences in our recipes and products. This paid dividends leading to increased sales and additional orders of our Christmas ranges.

Westaway Sausages: Facts and figures

  • Westaway Sausages Limited is a manufacturer of sausages and related products based in Newton Abbot, Devon with a turnover of £3 million

  • It employs 35 people in the UK and makes over 15 million sausages per year

  • It manufacturers and supplies chilled fresh pork sausages on a next day basis nationwide in the UK.

  • One in ten of the premium sausages eaten in the West Country are Westaway

  • Industry recognised as UK Meat and Poultry Small Processor of the year 2012.

  • For more information: http://www.westawaysausages.com

In Asia you have to be very flexible in your approach and respond quickly to the market and what it wants. On my first visit I interested to see how much consumers in Hong Kong (and not just expats) knew already about sausages and how inquisitive they were about our brand. I was also surprised to discover just highly regarded British food brands are there thanks to Britain’s reputation for high food safety standards – this certainly helped build trust quickly among retailers and consumers.

Having proved ourselves in Hong Kong it wasn’t long before we started to get interest from other suppliers and distributors in Asia. By this time I’d forged a strong and trusted relationship with my distributor in Hong Kong helping to generate word of mouth recommendations and instil confidence in our ability to work well in Asia.

Most enquiries initially come through our website and a quick response is essential if you don’t want to miss the opportunity. We’ve recently found a trader in Malaysia through this route and thanks to a UKTI trade mission to Singapore in May 2012, I had the chance to meet him in person and discuss business at the Food & Hotel Asia exhibition in Singapore. We also exhibited on the ADHB trade stand at this show and found some new customers this way.

We have recently started doing business in Japan which is a real achievement considering the very strict meat import requirements they impose on European producers – no European meat products have been imported there for over 50 years! With the support of our distributor in Japan and the British Embassy in Tokyo we had to work hard to adapt our product, prove the credibility and provenance of our ingredients and robustness of our supply chain. The radiation levels in local Japanese meat post the nuclear disaster at Fukushima Daiichi has provided a clear opportunity for those parts of the UK clear of radiation still present after Chernobyl. Our pork is West Country sourced and routine testing has shown it be free of Caesium 137.

We now are the only European meat company approved for import of meat products into Japan and back in October ours were the first UK sausages ever to be sold in Japan through Nissin and National Azabu stores as well as in themed English pubs across Tokyo. As you can imagine that was a very proud moment for everyone at Westaway Sausages and all who’ve helped us.

Our journey in Asia has been both challenging and rewarding in equal measure. Building trust and loyalty with your partners in the market is the key to success and I’m proud to call my distributor in Hong Kong a good friend as well as business associate. Our families have met and enjoyed meals together and I’ve even attended his son’s wedding – as a small family business ourselves, family values and integrity go hand in hand. Never underestimate this in Asia – word of mouth recommendations are important as contacts extend across the region so if you’re trusted, show them respect and are willing to work hard you will do well.

In 2013 we have our sights set on bringing our sausages to South Korea and we’re also going to continue recommending and supporting other food and drink companies in the South West to our contacts in Asia so they too can find opportunities and increase their export potential in Asia.

Charles’ top tips for doing business in South East Asia.

  • Go there to learn about the market and how your products might need to be adapted to suit the market

  • Build trusted and honest relationships with your partners. Eat their food, meet their families, develop friendships and respect their knowledge and integrity

  • Be committed to export, there will be great successes and the odd surprises along the way. Play the long game

  • Keep up with their ideas and live at their speed! Have the energy and revenue to develop as fast as they want you to and be prepared to work long hours like they do

  • If appropriate use your personality to build your brand – I’m always in my white Westaway butcher’s outfit, it gets me talked about and people in Asia love to have their photo taken with me!

Sectors: Food & Drink and Meat Products
Countries: China, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, and South West England
Menu
Export Action Plan