Martin Le Moine is President and co-founder of Fruit d’Or, and Sylvain Dufour is Vice-President and co-founder. The Quebec company specializes in processing northern berries from Eastern Canada.
What are the main differences between selling in Canada and selling abroad, and how can a company adapt accordingly?
In terms of the main differences between Canada and abroad in the context of exporting, Mr. Dufour points out that the food industry is especially subject to regulatory variations from one country to the next. And foreign clients’ habits and customs must also be taken into account.
These differences have an impact on product packaging and labelling, among other things. “Over the years, our approach has consisted of choosing partners with whom we’ve developed close relationships and having them validate that our products meet regulatory requirements and clients’ needs,” said Mr. Dufour. These partners become first-rate contacts between the company and its clients and enable the company to better respond to clients’ needs.
Can you share the best lesson learned from a bad exporting experience and what is the number-one thing new SMEs considering going into the export market should know?
Given the major role partners play in exporting, Mr. Dufour stresses that it is important that SMEs looking to export do their homework when choosing them. “Don’t trust the first one that comes along,” he said. “It’s important to make sure companies wanting to import your products are serious. Ask them for references, do credit checks, be sure that the terms and conditions of your agreement are clear. Tools exist to protect you, like export insurance. It’s far better to pay for this type of tool than to be constantly worrying that you might not be paid for your products.”
Mr. Le Moine added, “Don’t give exclusive rights to a new partner, or else do it in one country in particular, and set specific targets and a limited time period. All distributors want to have exclusive products, but you have to be sure they’ll dedicate to your specific product the energy needed to meet the targets you’ve set.”
“Have an exit strategy. If a partner isn’t doing the work, isn’t meeting the volume targets you are hoping to achieve in that market or is difficult to deal with, you need to be able to move on. On numerous occasions, the distributor we were setting our hopes on turned out to have a negligible share of the market, as compared to other players who were much more serious. It’s a learning curve.”
Mr. Dufour also stressed the importance of taking things step by step: “Rome wasn’t built in a day! The same can be said for exporting. Take the time to do things properly on each market you are trying to penetrate.”
EDC resources to help you export
What has exporting taught you that has had a beneficial effect on your operations?
“Exporting is also a source of innovation for a company like Fruit d’Or,” said Mr. Dufour. “When you’re selling around the world, you learn quickly that you have to remain competitive and keep innovating. Some of our most popular products today came to be in response to requests from clients abroad.”
“Exporting also provides an opportunity to find suppliers abroad through your foreign partners. It then becomes easier to find products and supplies that will help you develop new products and remain competitive.”