Formerly a Managing Director of JP Morgan (London), where he focussed on strategic advisory matters, Mark Sullivan is now Chairman of Warrens Bakery, Simply Cornish, Cornish Sea Salt, Cornish Seaweed and The Cornish Crisp Company. He is building a family of synergistic businesses, with a strong innovation and international outlook, around the theme of provenance ('Provenance Brands Limited'). We look at some of the lessons he shared at the SME Summit in Exeter about how food and drink producers can take their brand to an international market.
“There is no single answer to how best to take your food and drink brand to the world. It depends on your product, your brand, your company culture and the way you market it.” - Mark Sullivan, Chairman of Warrens Bakery
Focusing on distributors
For Mark’s provenance brands portfolio, its focused approach on distributors is key. “Every distributor is different. You will probably start with two or three companies, and will need to consider any conflicts and look at their market penetration and their terms, for example. You will then embark on a trial period and it may or may not work, but luckily it often does. Then you have a partnership to develop. This is the approach we take in individual markets.”
Identifying overseas markets
Working out which overseas markets to target is also subjective, depending on your brand, company and region. Mark uses Cornwall as an example. “I have a number of good options. I can look at continental Europe and think about Germany and Holland, for example. They love Cornwall – they visit in large numbers and watch Cornwall-based programmes on TV, so there is a real local opportunity.”
“Alternatively, I can adopt a more British approach and take the brand out to growing markets like Hong Kong and Singapore. Or I can think about the old colonial concept – there is a strong interest in Cornwall and its mining heritage in places like Australia and the Americas.
“In short, I can play lots of different cards.” Look at your brand and its peculiarities and identify the strongest markets open to you.
There is lots of assistance out there and Mark urges businesses to take advantage of all available resources, from UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) to Santander’s range of support services.
But there is no substitute for “Air Miles and shoe leather,” he says. “Get out there and shake people by the hand, meet face to face, build relationships. It is people who make the decisions. Even if these don’t lead to orders for some time, such meetings enable you to start to understand what people are looking for. This knowledge is key to refining your proposition.”
The importance of the UK market
Mark believes a healthy UK presence is a vital platform. “If you turn up at Walmart, it is pretty tough to be heard. But if they ask who you are supplying in the UK and you can say Sainsbury’s and Waitrose, for example, you have a calling card. It gives you immediate credibility with major international players.” Establishing a strong UK customer base will help you to be seen and heard.
Invest to grow v. a more reactive approach
The best approach will ultimately depend on your culture and the capital available to you. Mark's approach was to stretch themselves and invest to grow. “We have patient capital and we have hired good people and empowered them. We tell them it might take a year or 15 months but we give them the opportunity to go to trade shows and spend time meeting people and building relationships. We believed it would happen and it has. Be patient.”
Hear more from Mark as we take a closer look at one of his business interests Warrens Bakery.
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