Caitlin Sykes

Caitlin Sykes is the NZ Herald's Your Business editor

Small Business: Offshore distributors - Inge Vercammen, Van Dyck Fine Foods

Inge Vercammen is the commercial director of Van Dyck Fine Foods, a New Plymouth-based business that manufactures pancakes for food service and retail clients nationally and internationally.

Inge Vercammen, commercial director, Van Dyck Fine Foods.
Inge Vercammen, commercial director, Van Dyck Fine Foods.

The business has 18 full time staff in production and administration and also uses freelancers in sales functions.

What's your strategy when it comes to offshore markets?

Our business will become more and more of an export company. We like to focus on production and building our quantities rather than on building our own brand and brand awareness, so our focus - in the first instance - is on the quick service restaurant and food service markets when going offshore. These markets don't require as much brand awareness making them less costly to enter. Retail comes next, preferably manufacturing under a private label, for a brand that is well known in that country.

What offshore markets are you currently in?

Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Thailand.

Do you sell solely through distributors in those markets, or are there other channels you use?

It's a mix. In the Australian market, we have a direct client who sells under their own brand; we cook the product and pack it in their branded packaging. In 2013 we also set up our own import and sales company in Australia, Van Dyck Fine Foods Australia, working with brokers and distributors to sell and distribute our food service products.

In Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines we sell to an agent/distributor in each of those countries. And in Thailand we sell to a direct client who imports our products and uses them as an ingredient to make a ready-to-eat product that they sell under their own brand.

From your perspective, what factors make a good offshore distributor?

One that is passionate about our products and who can find a range of clients in that country to sell the product to in the food service and retail markets. We're also looking for a company that communicates well with us and is open to innovation and new ideas.

What methods have worked well for the business in terms of finding good distributors?

There are a few. To begin you need to do a good investigation of the cultural habits of the target country and carry out some market research. International trade shows have worked well for us and we like to send samples to those who express an interest in our products. It's important to visit prospects face to face, so we'll fly to meet with a distributor - everyone likes to see the owners of the business they are dealing with. We also work very closely with New Zealand Trade and Enterprise to gather information.

What are some of the lessons you've learnt in terms of dealing with offshore distributors?

Promises are not always based on facts. Sometimes people will paint you a picture of how much they will sell for you and if you believe them you'd have to triple your capacity to cope with the demand. So far, however, nobody has been ready to sign up for set volumes.

We had one contract with an importer where the relationship was very time consuming and involved lots of promises, meetings and travel to their country. This went on for a year without them ordering a single carton. The contract gave them the sole right to import and sell in that market, which meant that whoever wanted to buy our products had to go via them. Those orders were given to them but they refused to order a 20-foot container to deliver the orders on hand. So the lesson we learned is once a contract is signed you're stuck in a case where nothing moves. You can lose a lot of time and money when they do not order, and trying to reach them doesn't get results.

- NZ Herald

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