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How to Lead the Export-preneur Revolution

By Martin Hamilton, Managing Director, Mash Direct

When the idea first dawned on me to manufacture and package our vegetables to provide convenient meal accompaniments for our customers, little did I know that this simple concept would attract global attention from as far afield as Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates just under a decade later. With support from the government, trade bodies and regional business development agencies, many UK food and drink producers have been able to make a positive contribution to the overall growth of the industry. As a farmer turned entrepreneur, it’s great to hear that British produce is being enjoyed in a record 150 countries around the world, and to be one of the 2,500 companies selling our home-grown food overseas is incredible.

It is impressive statistics like these that need to be shouted about in order to encourage other entrepreneurial brands to capitalise on burgeoning international appetite for UK wares. As an exporting entrepreneur myself, I feel incredibly strongly about bringing currency home. We are not in a position to depend on the insular economy, so as business people, it’s vital to grow a spine and get on planes and trains to meet with buyers abroad. In that way, entrepreneurs and SMEs can make their mark as the backbone of the British economy through innovation and speed to market. Being your own boss means you can make the rules when it comes to international trade, by working dynamically and flexibly to export quickly and boost business in the process. In 2014, the UK was named Europe’s most entrepreneurial economy, and is currently fourth in the world. The country’s innovative spirit, coupled with a unique approach to business and services has helped its global ranking increase steadily over recent years, with performance now at peak levels.

This is good news all round, and critically supports the need for the skills and attitudes associated with entrepreneurialism within the export market. For Mash Direct and our export customers, working on new recipes for products that cater to international palates has helped us to broaden our horizons and increase sales at home and abroad. Taking inspiration from the various countries you’re looking to export to is important; it can help support growth in new product development work and keeps brands constantly innovating – which in turn can help stimulate change in the UK market too.

Attending the Gulfood Exhibition in 2012 was particularly eye-opening, and really gave us a deeper insight into doing business with global retailers. We learned that meetings are best done face-to-face, as the personal touch goes a long way in the Middle East. With such a widespread international community, negotiations are conducted in person, in English. Once an agreement has been made, there is a fair amount of paperwork to be completed before things can get moving. For those taking their first steps into this market, leaning on the help and support of distributors in the region, who are equipped with on-ground insight, will enable you to maximise your reach to new customers. In the UAE in particular, food products are held in extremely high regard there, which makes for a fruitful trading experience.

We’ve also had conversations with retailers in Singapore and the US – both of which are vastly different markets and cultures. Research is key when selling to a new audience in any industry, you’ve got to understand exactly what they customer wants and how your product can meet their needs. For instance, with genetically modified food causing alarm amongst US citizens, we’ll be emphasising the fact that all of our products are non-GM as the major selling point for this market.

Without a doubt, exporting has been an incredibly rewarding experience, both on a personal and professional level. By getting out there and broadening our own horizons in the international business market, we have been able to innovate and expand at a much quicker rate than originally anticipated. There literally is a world of opportunity out there for the taking, and I strongly feel that entrepreneurs should take inspiration from the UK’s burgeoning export figures to proceed with positivity, confidence and resilience.