Field Notes: Authentic Insights from Market Visits

Field Notes: Authentic Insights from Market Visits

Over the last 2 weeks I undertook market visits in Asia on behalf of clients covering organic and health food, granolas and cake mixes; spice mixes and baby food categories. I met with over 20 buyers in Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta and Singapore; from retailers to distributors and companies with e-commerce platforms. I also met with in-market, Austrade and State Government representatives and visited over 30 high-end retail outlets.

In my buyer-meetings I sought to understand market trends, opportunities for our clients’ product categories, and to obtain buyers’ ‘wish lists’ for Australian products. Supermarket visits were designed to identify category ranging and conduct on-shelf pricing and product competitor analysis for our clients.

‘So, what were the common themes from my conversations with buyers?’ I hear you say.

1. Regulatory changes

Regulatory changes are happening all across these markets. New labelling laws in Hong Kong, product registration changes in Malaysia, Halal requirements in Indonesia (rumoured to be mandatory across all categories in 2019), and the restriction of promotional activity on infant formulas in Singapore. These are just to name a few. Anyone looking to enter these markets will need to be aware of the relevant market access rules. And those currently active in the market must be proactive in catering to these changes.

2. Supermarkets

It is surprising how much turnover there has been in the buying teams for international products at leading high-end supermarkets. These changes have lead to a rationalization of some of the categories that previously enjoyed wide ranging. As a supplier or manufacturer, it is imperative that you keep in regular contact with your buyers, such that even if they change, you always have a champion arguing your case.

3. Retailers

Retailers introduced the ‘home brand’ conversation, to varying degrees, in every meeting. Some distributors also spoke about the desire to develop their own brands for distribution to retailers and food service. While the preference is always to take your own brands to export markets and build your brand presence, there is merit in keeping an open mind to home brand opportunities. This may help you secure more volume for your export channels.

4. Brand Loyalty

Premium Products don’t always enjoy brand loyalty in these markets. High-end consumers like to try new products. It is therefore important that companies continue to innovate and introduce new flavours, ranges, packaging, marketing methods etc to help extend the product and brand life cycle.

5. Wish Lists

Common to both retailers and distributors was a request for organic and free-from products. This is driven by a trend in government policies which address the region’s growing health risks, including diabetes and obesity. The organic trend has been growing for a while and has also  accelerated recently. A trend that has just started to gain pace is a rising demand for vegan products. Additionally, satisfying the needs of millennials arose in many of the meetings.

6. New in-market representatives

For the markets that I visited, many have new food and agribusiness Business Development Managers and Trade Commissioners working for Austrade or State Government agencies. They are keen to engage with suppliers, and potentially collaborate on projects. So if you are a food business, or a stakeholder supporting food businesses, be sure to reach out.

To learn more about what I observed on this trip, or if you would like us to conduct in-market analysis for your business; please contact me directly, at: najib@exportconnect.com.au