Experts answer export queries in first IOE and IT Food and Drink Special Interest Group

Fri 22 Sept 2023
Posted by: Benjamin Roche
IOE News
Food and Drinker sellers

The formal launch of the Institute of Export and International Trade (IOE&IT) Special Interest Group for the food and drink sector has seen expert speakers offer advice on the challenges facing the industry.

Adriana Santos, head of international at condiment company Tracklement, was among IOE&IT members who presented on her firm’s challenges on exporting to new markets, while Tom Campbell-Smart of Brand Organic offered insights on the Brexit effect on organic imports.

Supporting new exporters

First, however, there was talk from Ian Wright and Anthony Mulley of the government's Food and Drink Export Council on exporting food and drink as a UK-based firm.

Mulley leads the council’s Capability working group, dedicated to “identifying the support and skills needed for businesses to trade successfully”.

He detailed a mentoring programme run by the council aimed at businesses new to export, as well as networking events designed to help those already exporting develop the contacts required to accelerate expansion into new markets.

Distribution challenges

Santos presented on Tracklement’s preferred routes to market, making the case for the company’s strategy of directly exporting and managing its international presence in-house.

She highlighted the challenges of extra costs associated with using a third party to manage exports, which could make selling in a new market unviable.

“The majority of our exports are via a distributor. We don’t use wholesale business consultants or anything like that because it gives us greater control over where our products are going and how the brand is being managed.”

Getting the right distributor is also key, she said:

“You’re going to come across some distributors that promise you the Earth, [but] when [in] practical terms they do not purchase as much or are not really pushing the brand.”

Fielding questions

A Q&A session in the back half of the meeting saw Dale Fletcher of the World Trade Agency pose a query to Santos on whether Tracklement adjust their products for each market. Santos replied:

“Actually, we don’t. We present ourselves as a British condiment maker selling British condiments across the world.”

The company’s focus, she said, was on showing how their products could be integrated into local cultures, highlighting how their distributors have worked with Instagram influencer chefs to develop recipes that incorporate both their products and market-specific foods.

‘Upscaling knowledge’

Campbell-Smart gave an importer’s perspective on the issue of Brexit and how it has affected Brand Organic, a distributor of organic, biodynamic and natural products.

“As an importer, we’ve been dealing with continued uncertainty and changing regulations, and that’s impacted on us as a business.”

Brand Organic has been forced to widen its sourcing policy beyond the EU as a result Brexit. 

Demand from companies outside of the EU has ramped up, but importing from Europe remains “considerably easier” than importing from the rest of the world, he said.

Key to adapting to the changing environment, he concluded, was education and “upscaling knowledge”, something for which the company has “leaned on the Institute a lot”.

Onus on importers?

Another question in the Q&A, this time posed to IOE&IT trade and customs specialist Hamish MacKay, was on whether it is always an importer’s responsibility to be compliant with regulations.

Yes, he said:

“It is always the importer’s responsibility. However, you’ve just got to make sure you know who the importer is.”

The importer in this case, he noted, is the importer of record.

Local knowledge

Gary Baylis of Export Access added to the discussion with a note on how important it was to have those with local knowledge of specific markets’ regulations.

“Nutrition labelling, food safety, consumer awareness. It is extremely difficult, but unfortunately there is no single answer.

“You need to work with the local partner. It’s impossible to know about regulations from a distance. You might think you know about them, but you don’t.”

IOE&IT’s Laura Williams concluded the inaugural meeting of the group by hailing the value of hearing from those with personal experience of importing.

IOE&IT will be hosting the next next food and drink Special Interest Group in the coming months, where members can network and share more tips with one another. Interested members can sign up here.