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How to sell your food products internationally

A checklist of what you need to prepare, so that you can develop your food business beyond the borders of your country.

Do you want to develop your food business?

Whether you process foods or produce them, one way to grow your food business is to accept international orders and export your products to other countries.

But is it as simple as choosing a destination country for your products and then leaving?

no really. There is actually quite a bit of work involved before you go from a local following (and domestic sales) to foreign markets (and international sales).

Some food products do not need to be introduced. Others need you to invest in creating awareness and interest in what you sell. Some products can be sold directly to the consumer. Others require intermediaries to expose your products to more buyers. And some food items are easier to ship internationally than others.

All of this is to say that there is a lot to discover and do before you can start servicing foreign customers.

Before you start selling internationally, you need to do your research and have a plan

What you need to start selling food products internationally

1. Do your research

If there are no customers, there is no business.

This means that you cannot just pick one country and start selling your products there. There are language barriers to overcome, payment channels, rules to follow, and logistics to streamline.

If you want to grow your food business, your first step should always be to do your research – this way you'll avoid costly mistakes.

You have things like:

  • Is there a demand for your product?
  • How big is the potential market?
  • Who are your customers?
  • How much of that market can you realistically capture?
  • How competitive is the market and who are your main competitors?
  • What is the price of your products?
  • Are there preferred routes to the market and ways to buy these products?
  • What are import duties?
  • What are the import regulations and requirements?
  • Do you comply with food hygiene and safety requirements?
  • How will the exchange rate affect business?
  • What about supply chain and logistics?

2. Choose the right products

Tastes, preferences and even food trends differ from country to country.

So, while it may be tempting to ship all of your local best-sellers, remember that not every one of your cherished products will have a market overseas.

In short, be selective about what you choose to export. Choose the ones that have the most appeal or the ones that your research shows people are really interested in – these are the ones most likely to be successful in the destination country.

Suggested study: Packaging design and return on investment

3. Find the best way to reach buyers

How are you going to find, reach and then serve international customers?

For example:

  • Can you set up an online store on your website and partner with a courier service for shipping?
  • Should you sell your products on Amazon?
  • Do you need to find import and export partners to receive your products in foreign supermarkets?

Whatever you choose to do, you need great sales copy: delicious web copy, product descriptions, and effective brochures

How to find import and export partners

Attend relevant trade shows – they are a great opportunity to network!

Visit government websites such as those of the Department of Commerce or Customs. You may be able to find a list of registered importers.

Go through the yellow pages and online listings of related companies you can contact.

Take a look at classified/wanted ads found in newspapers or business websites.

Do your research the analog way. Whether you are traveling abroad or simply shopping at your local supermarket, imported products are labeled with the name and address of the importer. Contact them for more information.

Tip: Make it easy for potential partners to find you with web copy that's optimized for search engines.

4. Update your website

Your website is not only a source of important brand and product information, but also how people learn about you.

This is why your website is not a set-it-and-forget project.

This is a constant work in progress that needs to be updated and improved.

For example: When you first launched, your website was probably optimized for your home market. It is designed to appeal to locals and is written in your native language for domestic target segments. For example: This is all in Thai.

But if you want to grow your food business and sell internationally, your website should at least be useful to foreign customers. Consider this: a German-speaking customer won't get far on a Thai website – but he'll manage with English text.

This means that it makes sense to have a high-quality English version – it's the language of the business world and the most cost-effective way to reach new customers.

Does your website need to be translated into multiple languages?

If you can localize and/or translate for each new market, why not? But for small food businesses, this isn't always a practical option. This is expensive to do and, unless you have a dedicated team, difficult to maintain.

You need employees who are fluent in that language. A more cost-effective option is to create an English-language version of your website and hire a copywriter if needed.

5. Participate in relevant trade fairs

If your budget allows, attend relevant trade shows. Trade shows can be a great way to promote your product(s) as well as meet potential partners and interact with local buyers – everything you need to grow your food business!

You can increase sales when international buyers can understand what's written on your packaging – otherwise, they might not even know what your product is!

6. Prepare your packaging for export

While it's important that your packaging is eye-catching, getting your product ready for export means a lot more than having a striking design.

You should also ensure that your packaging meets the legal requirements in the country you are exporting to.

For example:

  •  In some markets, materials that come into contact with food (“food contact materials and articles”) are regulated. This includes materials used in food packaging.
  • Make sure you follow the food labeling guidelines of the destination country. This includes appropriate ingredient lists, mandatory allergen information, nutritional information, country of origin for specific products, and more.
  • There may also be language considerations. For example: Products destined for Canada must have bilingual labels

Once your packaging is compliant, you need to turn your attention to the marketability of the packaging.

External text can add to a product's whimsical appeal (and novelty factor), but there are also practical considerations, such as helping shoppers instantly understand what your product is – and how to enjoy it!

For example, a graphic may not always be sufficient if it is accompanied by preparation instructions. Adding English text can make a big difference.

Tip: Attention-grabbing packaging is important, but once the product is in the buyer's hand, it's the text that convinces them to try your product and add it to their cart.

7. To grow your food business, you may need to customize your products

Can you increase sales by customizing your product for a new market? Worth checking out

For example:

  • In some countries, consumers prefer jumbo or bulky sizes. In other areas, there are more single households where individual packages sell better.
  • Some countries regulate the types of colors or additives used in food products. Do your ingredients meet these requirements?
  • Taste preferences are also different. Your "regular spice" may be considered "extra hot" and not pleasing to most consumers. Would it be better to create a milder version as well?

Sometimes, you don't need to make any changes at all. Other times, small tweaks make your products more attractive overseas.