A study by the Conference Board of Canada found that small (and medium) sized enterprises owned by recent immigrants to Canada, are more likely to export, and they are also among the fastest-growing SMEs. This series highlights some of their stories.
Based in Markham, Ontario, Riz Global Foods is a Canadian exporter specializing in premium Halal meat products. Syed Ali is the company’s president.
Ali answered a few questions about the exporting experience for immigrants to Canada.
Where were you born?
I was born in Hyderabad, India.
When and why did you come to Canada?
I came to Canada in 2004. My wife is Canadian and we lived in Toronto. Soon after, we moved to Dubai, but had to come back in 2007 due to a growing family and permanent resident restrictions. I had been working in Dubai since 1996 in marketing and sales, procurement and supply-chain sales.
When I came to Canada permanently, I went into the food exporting business. I understood the markets in the Middle East — it’s a Halal market. Initially I started off with grains and pulses, then graduated into beef.
Did you have any specific concerns about starting a business in Canada?
Sure, I had concerns. Canada was a new place with new laws and requirements, however I was confident in my ability to do what I knew best — export. So, even though I was in a new place, with some trial and error and after the first couple of orders, I got the hang of it.
Have you used any resources, or supports to help you grow the business?
The Canadian Trade Commissioner Service has been very helpful. They introduced us to clients and they gave us importer lists and key customers. They are doing a great job with facilitating and supporting new businesses that are entering emerging markets.
What services were the most useful?
For our business to survive, financing was the most important thing and EDC’s support allowed us to get that.
What has your export journey been like?
When I lived in Dubai, I didn’t see many Canadian food products in the market. That’s why I did what I did. I started when there was a global recession, but I knew that there will always be a need for food, so it seemed like a good option.
In terms of volume, we are doubling our exports every year. We’re adding on new products that are in demand in the Middle East. However, the prices of Canadian products are usually higher because of their superior quality, which sometimes acts as a barrier for entry to a new market.
I am in talks with a couple of companies that manufacture condiments, spices, and sauces that complement the beef and chicken we currently export. Plus, we’re looking at organic products, such as organic beef, turkey and eggs. We’re always trying to expand and diversify our portfolio. Because our main export market is Halal, it remains our focus.
EDC resources to help you export
What is the biggest difference between selling in Canada and selling in another country? How did you adapt to that difference?
It’s hard to answer that question as exports make up 99 per cent of our business. We sell beef in Canada to a select few steakhouses. Soon we will focus on domestic distribution.
Reports suggest that immigrant-owned businesses are more likely to develop new/stronger trade links beyond the U.S. Does this reflect your experience exporting and trade?
Canadian companies mostly export to the U.S. Almost 80 per cent of their market is the U.S. because global markets take a lot of effort and expense. Distance is one reason and then understanding the different international cultures. Additionally, you need someone to physically travel and sell overseas. A lot of Canadian manufacturers don’t have the resources, so when a company like ours offers to do this for them, they think it’s a great idea. We pay them for their products, and we take on all the export risk.
Looking back on your business/export success, what are you most proud of?
We are one of the largest exporters of Canadian beef to Saudi Arabia.
What advice would you give to new Canadians about starting or growing a business?
It takes lots of commitment. In my case, I sold my house, so I took a huge risk. You have to overcome failure, which is always a possibility, by keeping at it and taking steps to mitigate it. It takes three or more years for a business to establish itself. The key is perseverance.
What is the #1 thing SMEs need to know about exporting and trade?
They need to understand the culture of the market they’re going to enter. They need to find and adequately use the resources that are provided by our government. They should always try to find a niche product or service pertaining to that export market.