If your product or service works in your home market, it almost certainly has potential overseas.
Exporting should be part of your planning process from day one: “It’s about the opportunity,” says James Taylor, Commercial Director of Mackie’s at Taypack.
James speaks from experience: Mackie’s has won the Herald Scottish Family Business award for International Growth, and been named Export Business of the Year in the Scottish Food & Drink Excellence Awards 2017.
All the more impressive when you realise that the business was only launched in 2009. The aim then: to produce high quality, premium potato crisps for the UK market.
But within its first year, Mackie’s at Taypack was already eyeing opportunities overseas.
“Our family has been farming in Perthshire for almost 100 years, and we had the ambition to launch a premium crisp as a way to diversify.” (Taypack, by this point, had already been washing and packing potatoes for UK supermarkets for more than 20 years.)
“But before launching, we discovered Mackie’s was also planning to launch a premium crisp product, to diversify out from their highly successful ice-cream business. We both recognised that the prospect of success was stronger if we could team up and share our expertise.”
Their joint venture launched with just five flavours, all selling in 150g packs. “Less than a decade later, we’re now selling into 30 countries worldwide, and our exports have grown by 50% in the last year alone. For the market in China, which has a sweet tooth, we offer strawberry crisps; while for Asia, there’s a Scotch bonnet chili crisp. Each market has its unique profile.”
All the flavours, for all 30 markets, are exported from the production facility at Errol, Perthshire.
Recent expansion has been focused on a successful entry into the markets of the Far East.
“We attend two to three targeted shows each year, to meet distributors, and SDI has always been very helpful, through their in-market representatives. They can help with due diligence in new territories, getting trade references, credit checking distributors and advising on local regulatory factors.”
The world’s largest trade fair for sweets and snacks is ISM. “It’s held in Germany every January and attracts buyers from all over the world. Last year we also attended FoodEx, in Japan, which is Asia’s largest exhibition dedicated to food and drink. Since then we have launched into South Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan.”
James has some advice for those entering a new market for the first time.
“When you are just starting, SDI can support ‘learning visits’ to a prospect territory. They can also provide market insight, advice on documentation for each market, and practical support through their in-market teams.”
Once you’ve made an initial contact and an order is placed: “It’s fair to ask for payment in advance on the first shipment,” advises James. “That will help weed out those who are really serious and committed to your product.”
For food and drink, the distributor also has the essential insight to local tastes. “We supply samples of all our flavours, for them to select from, after meetings and tastings with their own customers.
“For example, we hadn’t expected a market like the Philippines to be good for us, but we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the interest. With the overall population, there’s a viable market here, even for a premium product.”
Language can always be a challenge; but distributors are usually able to provide accurate translations for product labelling and marketing materials. In addition, “both our distributors and connections from SDI help us ensure our packaging meets overseas regulations.”
Patience is also important. “Not every event is a success, and sometimes it can take many months before an order is confirmed. For food and drink in Japan, for example, a new product needs to provide a huge amount of technical information on ingredients before a licence to import is granted. An approved ingredient here might need additional testing there, which all takes time.”
For Mackie’s at Taypack, growth in exports helped deliver 20% growth in turnover for the last full trading year, which has also meant that the business has expanded employment. “We’ve taken on three new team members in sales and marketing roles, as export markets have grown over recent years; while the factory has increased its workforce by 20%. We’re fortunate that we still have capacity in the factory, and space on our current site to expand when we need to.”
That may come sooner rather than later: the plan is to become the UK’s top exported premium crisp by 2022 – and Perthshire offers the perfect base for connections to international markets globally. From either Edinburgh or Glasgow, James can now fly to more than 200 destinations directly, including China – and both airports are within an hour’s drive of Perthshire.
Exporting isn’t something to rush: but it is an opportunity most businesses should explore.
“We see plenty of opportunities,” confirms James. “Take the time to get to know each market you are targeting, and make sure you take advice when looking for the right partner. It is important they’re a good fit for your company.
“We always try to sell in sterling, to reduce the risk from foreign exchange fluctuations, but that’s not always possible.
“Scotland Food & Drink also support us with worldwide trend reports, to ensure we have insight to back up any decisions we make.”
So where’s next? “India, South America, and Africa are all great opportunities, which we would love to tap into in the next few years. But we want to drive Asia first – we’re doing well there and the potential is exciting. It’s important not to spread yourself too thin.”
What’s your own ambition? For a first stop on exploring export potential visit the Export Advisory Service
Mackie’s at Taypack crisps are now exported to: Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, The Netherlands, The Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Slovenia, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, USA and Vietnam.