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Nada Young reflects on what it takes for New Zealand F&B exporters to achieve long term success in Southeast Asian markets.

Exporting to new markets can make or break a company. There’s no “A for effort” in this game. Rewards come for those that execute well thought out plans.
Before you groan and turn the page, this is not a lecture about the need to develop a ten-page export plan. What I’m referring to is the basic recipe for export success. It’s the little details that could save your company.
Generally speaking, most Kiwi companies are more interested in testing new markets in real time than sitting in their boardroom developing conceptual export plans, and most of the time this seems to work well. We’re from a ‘number eight wire’, ‘up by the boot straps’ culture after all.
But, it’s no surprise that for most exporters, there comes a time when a small detail overlooked has expensive and time-consuming repercussions.This is particularly true for Food and Beverage (F&B) exporters who must operate within a heavily regulated environment. The fact is, you’re dealing with consumable products; Governments take food safety very seriously and do not take kindly to any products that might threaten the public’s health and wellbeing.
Take, for example, the botulism scandal the rocked Fonterra (and the New Zealand food industry at large) last month. A “false positive” test result in New Zealand sent our dairy exports to Asia into turmoil. The Asian media reacted savagely and for a time it was best not to mention dairy products to buyers in the region for fear of making a poor first impression.
I’ve also seen the future of well-established companies put in jeopardy because of poor attention to basic details, such as erroneous labelling on one single order. In one such instance, because the labelling conflicted with local regulations the buyer rejected the goods and the product was destroyed, in accordance with local law. The supplier had to foot all the costs. In the blink of an eye, a hugely lucrative sale had turned into a hugely expensive disaster!
F&B exports can be a high stakes game and for most exporters, one of the most stressful times is when it comes to delivery of an order. The process usually goes something like this:
• Settle payment terms.
• Schedule and produce the goods.
• Book space on a ship or flight.
• Organise export documentation.
• Deliver the goods.

In principle, this process is simple enough, but ask any active exporter and they will agree that these four little tasks can take countless hours, often extending outside of the normal working week.
A couple of months ago while in Hong Kong I was up at 4am, frantically on the phone to New Zealand (where it was 8am), trying to track down a missing piece of export documentation vital to clearing a consolidated shipment of short shelf-life, high-value goods that was landing in Kuala Lumpur in less than six hours.
I knew that if the right set of export documents was not presented, it was more than likely that Malaysia Customs would hold the shipment, thus racking up expensive storage fees, losing precious days of shelf-life and taking up a good deal of everyone’s time. Worse still, Customs could have destroyed the whole shipment and fined the importer. All because of one missing document.
Mercifully, the oversight was quickly resolved, and thanks to a great display of cross discipline teamwork, the cargo was able to be cleared without any delays.
Dealing with a situation like this is made particularly difficult when you take into account the various time zones. Being based in Southeast Asia, as I am, means there is a four to six hour lag behind New Zealand, so any urgent correspondence or swift transactions must take place with Zen-like timing – otherwise, by the time it’s midday in Asia, anything that is unresolved in New Zealand grinds to a halt until the following business day in New Zealand.
Of course, there are those dedicated suppliers and logistics providers who are prepared to work all hours of the day and night. Export ‘All Stars’ that do whatever it takes to get the job done. These are the people and the companies that outshine the rest and it’s easy to see why they are successful in Southeast Asia, where having a great product at a good price is just one small piece of the puzzle.
It takes absolute focus and dedication to establish new export markets. Methodically working through every step and drawing on the strength of a skilled team of people contributes significantly towards the long term success of any export business


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