Exporting food products requires an understanding of local rules and regulations to ensure regulatory compliance.
This can be challenging for a business of any size. But for small and medium sized enterprises the task can seem mountainous.
“Regulatory compliance presents the same challenges for all exporters including start-up food businesses and more established companies alike. Bigger scale exporters find it challenging to understand and comply with legal provision so for start ups it can be daunting; they are new to the food industry and so do not have history or experience to build on and may have limited resources and budget too,” Claudine Lefebvre, regulatory manager and head of international at Ashbury Labelling observed.
‘A huge learning curve’
First-time exporters can fall into some common traps, Lefebvre continued.
“It is easy to become overwhelmed with how much needs to be done and complied with. In our experience start-up businesses often underestimate the time it may take to be ready to export a product. This is particularly the case for first time exporters and it usually constitutes a huge learning curve.”
But while an intimidating amount of red-tape is involved in ensuring you are compliant with regulatory requirements in international markets, Lefebvre stressed that the cost of non-compliance can be high.
“It is true that compliance should not be dismissed lightly as the cost of non-compliance may be much higher than the cost of complying in the first place. The cost will vary depending on the issue itself, the jurisdiction in question, at what stage the product development is at when an issue is identified, or where the product is when an issue is identified.
"This can mean fines, cost of re-printing artwork or stickering, loss of shipment, loss of reputation, loss of authorisation to trade in that country and so on.”
Keeping costs down
For many start-ups the cost of taking the appropriate action to ensure compliance may seem prohibitive. But Lefebvre shared some inside tricks to keep expenses to a bare minimum.
“The solution is of course to get the product checked for compliance at the start which seems obvious, but due to cost, is an area that many start-ups overlook. There are ways of making this step as cost-effective and budget-friendly as possible, while maximising your experience and building the right support network to take the product to market effectively.”
Here are her top four tips:
- Get in touch with industry and exporters associations: Organisations providing support include the Food and Drink Federation and Food and Drink Export Association the UK. There are also associations targeting specific markets which can help with exporters (whether first-time exporters or seasoned exporters) like the China-Britain Business Council, which focuses on trade with China in the UK. "These organisations have access to hundreds of members, including many companies providing expert advice on most areas that a company will find challenging when exporting. Some of those organisations also include in-house services for their members to benefit from the relationships those organisations already have with distributors, trade partners, and relevant authorities," Lefebvre advised.
- Network with fellow exporters: "Not all will be competitors, and many of our clients have fed back to us that sharing experiences with other companies of their size has helped them greatly. You can get in touch with fellow exporters through your own network of course, but also by attending conferences. Most countries will have their own government body working to promote international trade. Industry and exporter associations can be helpful with this too."
- Don’t wait until the last minute to check compliance: "If you’ve already spent your money on developing a great product, a great design, great packaging and a great PR campaign, you don’t want to then find out that you have to re-think it all (and pay for it all again!) because that product cannot be sold with the current composition in that country, or because the design now to be reviewed to be made compliant and won’t look as great anymore. You want to know about the legal framework as early as possible, so you include it in all the development and creative work that you’ll do to ensure your product is compliant and that you maintain a point of difference," Lefebvre said.
- Shop around: "Don’t hesitate to contact several companies and compare prices. Talk to them, make sure they are speaking your language and are not going to lose you in legal jargon. You need practical advice. Choose a compliance company that will charge based on the actual quantity of work involved, for a price that fits the scale of your project."