Europe was the first export market for a Scottish business which now ships award-winning chocolate all around the world.
Richard O’Connor set up Perth-based Chocolate and Love in 2010 and by 2012 was exporting to Europe.
Initially the company bought and sold chocolate and built its knowledge of the market. However, soon after that it started manufacturing its own organic, fairly-traded product which has gone on to win awards.
Today the company's chocolate, which is manufactured in Switzerland, is the heart and soul of the business. Chocolate and Love products are now sold in over 35 countries - and the company is continuing to grow.
Richard's export strategy is based on building close relationships with the right distributors.
To me, finding a distributor is like looking for a marriage partner. You don’t get married to the first girl you kiss. You need to put in time and effort to find a distributor who shares your values and connects with your customers.
Richard O'Connor, founder of Chocolate and Love
As a Scottish company, he saw Europe as the obvious place to start – and even though the political landscape has changed he continues to recognise it as a critical market.
“Europe was where we started to export and it is still hugely important, accounting for around 30% of export business. Europe is nearby. Language barriers are easy to overcome, paperwork is relatively straightforward and there are no real cultural hurdles as far as I've experienced.
Richard's advice on European distributors
Richard says that distributors are key when exploring different countries to export to.
“There are differences in how to market between countries within Europe and that’s where knowledgeable distributors really come into play. For example, some European countries are very aware of the fair-trade mark, whereas elsewhere there is more interest in our organic status – or simply in the quality of the taste.
“Finding a distributor is not something to leave to chance. This is a long term relationship and it makes sense to be pretty deliberate about it.
“To me, finding a distributor is like looking for a marriage partner,” says Richard. “You don’t get married to the first girl you kiss. You need to put in time and effort to find a distributor who shares your values and connects with your customers."
How to find the right connections
The competitive advantage of trading in Europe has been key to Chocolate and Love’s success – especially as finding new customers is relatively easy.
Richard has found that exhibitions are an excellent place to make new connections across Europe, and has attended several events with the support of Scottish Development International (SDI).
“One thing that we’ve discovered is that it is much better to take the initiative and contact the people that we are interested in working with, rather than waiting for them to come to us. We are choosy about who we partner with, so we have to actively seek out the best distributors to market our products."
The recipe for sweet success
Since starting to export to Europe, Chocolate and Love has also started exploring markets a little less close to home. “Scottish Enterprise and SDI have helped us to develop our export strategy and has been particularly helpful in developing the connections with far Eastern markets such as Japan and China.”
Apart from sourcing the right distributors what are Richard’s secrets to export success?
“People ask me where I’m based and the real answer is ‘in the air’. I’m nearly always travelling and that is really what has enabled us to grow the business.”
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