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10 Tips: From Homesick Shelf to Category Captain

By: Greg Seminara
Topics: Category Captain

Many supermarkets offer sections dedicated to products from foreign countries. The "Homesick" shelf allocates one meter, mini departments, represented by iconic niche brands from the USA,Germany, Italy,UK, Brazil, or Mexico. Despondent expatriates rush to this section hoping to find their favorite candy or "sauce" brand from back home. Often, this represents a "foot in the door" and a starting place for your business development. However, most brands soon become frustrated with this remote shelf location and plot strategies to enter the main fixture to compete side by side versus local competitors. Read Export Solutions Ten Tips to gravitate from "Homesick Shelf to Category Captain".

1. Analyze the Data
Government census data ( and embassies) can reveal the number of your citizens in a foreign country. For example, in the USA there are many Italian's and Brit's in New York, German's in Pennsylvania and Mexican's in California. Tourism statistics also supply guidance where to find your current customer base overseas.  Current sales per capita figures indicate countries where you brand has traction beyond your core expatriate base. This analysis provides you with the first clues on where to focus your investments.

2. Research Local Preferences
A food scientist or market research company could study local food preferences and your product portfolio. Are their options to incorporate your brand into traditional recipes ? Consider adapting your core product line to meet local flavor preferences.
Pringles built exceptional sales and excitement by launching innovative new flavors such as Jalapeno, Curry, Grilled Shrimp, Ketchup, and Pizza.

3. Test "Higher Spend" Marketing Plan
Everyone knows the fundamentals of brand building: Sampling,billboards, radio , and social media. Usually, exporters may be hesitant to invest in advance of sales. However, it may be "low risk" to pick one small-medium size country to test a targeted marketing support plan.

4. Hire a Local Manager
Its tougher and tougher to manage exports via remote control from company headquarters.
Smart exporters are opening offices in regional centers like Shanghai and Dubai for placement close to the action.  You have a choice to send a missionary from company headquarters or a local hire who understands the language, market , and how to get things done at store level.

5.Focus on Upscale Supermarkets
Identify the "upscale" supermarket chain in a country. Their consumer base is likely more adventurous and boasts higher purchasing power. Invest to be a category leader at these high profile customers. Often , middle income supermarkets look to these upscale chains for assortment inspiration. In the USA, think of HEB and Whole Foods first, not Walmart. In the UK, look to Waitrose vs. Morrison's. The same analogy applies to every market.

6. Manufacture in Country
Eliminating overseas freight charges and duties may allow you to compete more effectively on a price basis. Labeling in the local language may be a plus. A small factory also establishes you as a member of the community with employees that will create goodwill. A manufacturing site may be complex and expensive, but co-packers may represent another option.

7. Move to a Bigger Distributor
Frequently, a new brand will align with a small distributor consolidating brands from one country. This is a logical and viable strategy to get started. However, I've witnessed countless cases where the brands aspirations and requirements out strip the capabilities of the small distributor. Brands may consider moving to a more powerful distributor, with deeper brand building capabilities. Warning: be prepared to invest more with a big distributor or you risk losing ground as unsupported brands may get lost in the mix. Export Solutions database tracks an average of 58 distributors per country.

8. Sponsor a Sports Team or Charity
Fans everywhere love their teams. Alignment and support of a local sports team yields dividends. Pick a charity that contains a meaningful  link to your product or target consumer. Many supermarket chains have a favorite charity providing a route to collaborate with a trading partner for a worthwhile cause.

9. Bring Your Team
Retailers are desperate for fact based consumer insights. Bring your Research and technical experts from headquarters to visit overseas retailers and distributors. Let them "wow" them with their category knowledge. Note: you may need to coach your experts on appropriate messages as sometimes foreign buyers don't care how you operate in Chicago or London.

10. Create an Anniversary Event
Many brands have been available in foreign markets for 10,20, 30 years or more. Why not design an anniversary event commemorating "25 years in the ______ Market".  Elements could include special packages, consumer contest, public relations, charitable donations, and a celebratory dinner for your retail customers.