How to get your F&B products into South East Asia

16 May 2016

In this Q&A with NZTE Beachheads advisor, Winstone Chee, we find out how New Zealand exporters can improve their approach in the South East Asian market.  

What new consumer trends can New Zealand F&B exporters take advantage of in South East Asia?

Consumers are becoming considerably more health conscious and are challenging the make-up of ingredients in products more than ever before.

Organics and health products have taken a wider footprint in retail outlets throughout the South East Asian region and consumers are demanding quality and freshness.

Through social media, they are becoming a lot more vocal and opinionated on how retailers handle product and where product is being sourced from. The value and price-orientated consumer still makes decisions based on price, but also demands better quality.

What could exporters do to improve the way they’re perceived in South East Asia?

Buyers in South East Asia are well aware of what New Zealand has to offer and understand the background and positioning of products. However, companies must understand that South East Asian countries have different demographics and that, even within each country, there are also many tiers of consumer groups. Buyers like to work with companies that understand their market and cater for its diversity.

How should fresh and dairy product businesses get to know and understand their consumers and customers in the South East Asia market?

There is no better way than to work with buyers in the specific countries and to spend time in retail stores, observing the shopping patterns of customers. Taking the time to talk to customers and understand their wants and needs will help businesses make the right decisions for that market, rather than decisions made in the boardroom in New Zealand.

In your experience, what are some misconceptions that New Zealand exporters have about the market?

The biggest misconception about the South East Asian market is that “one shoe fits all”. Everything from branding, packaging, sizing, quality, marketing to supply chain, inventory, pricing and stock availability, needs to be looked at separately for each country and retailer.

What makes a successful exporter?

There are many New Zealand exporters that have been able to get the right formula to service South East Asian countries. They visit the region regularly. They understand the buyer’s wants and needs. They make it easier for the buyer to manage stock flow, marketing plans and implementation of new and exciting product range.

What are some examples of companies doing well in this sector?

New Zealand companies with high volume and exceptional marketing ability include Mr Apple, AVANZA, Zespri and Silver Fern Farms. However, other Southern Hemisphere countries are making considerable advances in F&B, giving buyers alternate options of supply.

Medium-sized exporters who have niche products and great marketing ability, but not necessarily volume, will continue to do well.

Product categories within the dairy and fresh sector have a following, especially as South East Asian countries become more developed and their demand for niche products grows. The challenge will continue to be the supply chain and how cost reduction in this area can be pushed back down the line to ensure retail pricing becomes affordable to the customer.

How do you work with New Zealand exporters?

Through my South East Asia contacts and experience with different markets, I work to give exporters a better understanding of current market situations. For example, I help them to get across the plan that each buyer has for a specific market. 

It can be a long hard frustrating road to achieve the results that a New Zealand exporter looks for. But the survivors will be those that are passionate about their product and understand the market before they enter it. Innovation will drive success as competition heats up.

Winstone Chee is an NZTE Beachheads advisor in South East Asia. He has extensive experience in FMCG across New Zealand, Australia, South East Asia and China, specialising in Fresh Foods for Dairy Farm International based in Singapore.

This article was originally published in Exporter Magazine on May 6 2016.