Rebecca Russell, global brand manager at Mackie's at Taypack, shares her insights on business culture, prioritisation and routes to market for Mackie's Crisps around the world.
“The company was formed in 2009 and we began exporting in 2010. We knew at that time that there was a huge market for crisps around the world and a lot of other crisp brands were already exporting.
“We were also aware that there’s a good market for Scottish food and drink around the world and it’s perceived as being high quality and premium. So we saw an opportunity to become the first Scottish manufacturer of crisps to begin exporting.
“We currently export to 17 countries and export makes up about 15% of our business. It’s not concentrated on one specific area – we export to Europe, North America, Asia and Australasia.
“We began by working with some of the customers we already had through Mackie’s ice-cream, our sister brand and cross-selling crisps to them. And when it came to targeting new business we worked with Scottish Development International to identify opportunities and target new markets.
China's big opportunity
“At the moment, our biggest export market is China. We began trading there in 2014 and business has grown really rapidly since then.
“For us, China is just a really big opportunity in terms of its sheer population size, but also by the fact that there is high demand there for imported premium, high quality food and drink products.
“China is very different to any other market, especially to the UK. It has been challenging. We’ve had to learn a lot. For example, just getting product in through customs can be a challenge and we had to send in test orders to begin with before we could properly trade there.
“The other interesting thing about the Chinese market is the ecommerce industry there. Consumers buy a lot more things online than we do here. In the UK we tend to do trade more through supermarkets, whereas in China we work with a lot of the online channels, so that was very new for us aswell.
Adapting to different markets
“There are some countries where we have had to make adaptations to our product − either to meet specific needs of that market or regulations. For example, we had to change our Aberdeen Angus seasoning for the US and Canadian markets to a vegetarian version and that’s because of import legislation there.
"We’ve also had to make changes to our packaging for some markets. Sometimes we can just put a label on the back of packs with translation and that works just fine. But there are some markets where we’ve completely revamped our packaging.
“For example, in the Canadian market we’ve got dedicated Canadian packaging which is bi-lingual with French and English text. And we’ve also put a Scottish Saltire on the front on our Canadian packs due to the high affinity that Canadian consumers have with Scotland.
“And we’ve just launched our Chinese packaging.
Selecting the best route to market
I would 100% recommend Scottish Enterprise and Scottish Development International for any business that’s looking to export. I think we’re really lucky here in Scotland to have that resource.
“Route to market varies according to specific markets. Generally we work with distributors and have one distributor for each market we work in. However, there are a few countries where we work via agents. It really just depends on the specific market and what works best for that market.
“I think it’s important to understand the pros and cons of all the different routes to market, especially in terms of the specific country you’re working in. Different routes work better for different countries.
“I think even more important than the route to market itself though, is finding the right partner to work with. We tend to see our agents or distributors as extensions of our sales and marketing team and we try to work collaboratively with them to grow our export markets.
“When we first began exporting it would’ve been good to understand the importance of prioritising markets. We didn’t have any real clear focus on a particular market and it was a bit of a scattergun approach, going after any new market that we could.
“For us, that just wasn’t sustainable so now we have a much more targeted approach.
“The biggest challenge for us is that the countries we work in can be so different. When you’ve got a small team and limited resource, it can be very difficult to be everything to every market. The way we’ve overcome this challenge is by prioritising those markets where we feel we got the potential for the greatest success and we focus our efforts and resources on those specific markets. That’s how you get the best returns for the effort you put in.
“So it’s all about effort for reward.
Everyone should view export as a learning journey.
“From a business perspective, the benefits come in all shapes and forms. Firstly, there’s the additional revenue streams it generates, but more importantly is the brand equity we build by raising our profile on a global scale. Secondly, we achieve operational efficiencies and cost advantages through securing economies of scale and spreading business risk.
“From a personal point of view, it’s really exciting for me to see our products appearing in supermarkets, hotels and cafes all around the world. Also I get to meet lots of people from different backgrounds and learn about different countries and cultures – so it’s really interesting.
It's a 'learning journey'
“Everyone should view export as a learning journey. It has been for us. And for me personally, I didn’t have a lot of experience of exporting before I was brought into this job, but I’ve learned a lot along the way.
“I don’t think businesses should be discouraged by lack of experience. We’ve got a really good support network here in terms of Scottish Enterprise, Scottish Development International and, in the food and drink sector, we also have Scotland Food & Drink.
“So for us, it’s just about getting out there and continuing to grow Mackie’s Crisps as a global brand.
“Take the time to really get to know the market, but also to find the right partner to work with. At the end of the day, they’re going to be the ones going out there representing your business and your brand, so it’s really important first of all that they’re a really good fit for your business.
Get advice from the experts
“The team at Scottish Enterprise and Scottish Development International has been absolutely critical to our export journey. We’ve benefited from learning journeys to specific markets. We’ve had funding for international trade shows, market information and introductions to potential customers.
“I really don’t think we’d be as far as long our export journey as we are without them.
“I would 100% recommend Scottish Enterprise and Scottish Development International for any business that’s looking to export. I think we’re really lucky here in Scotland to have that resource."
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