Ahead of the HSBC Scottish Export Awards 2016, BQ caught up with one of Scotland's most renowned exporters. Alan Burnett of Tunnock's Tea Cakes tells us how they started exporting and how they have continued to grow the brand overseas.
Tunnock's started exporting in 1957 to Newfoundland and now exports to 35 countries across the globe.
The firm is now continuing to expand overseas with new customers in Ghana, Denmark, Singapore, Egypt and mainland Spain to add to the list.
BQ caught up with export sales manager Alan Burnett.
What does your company do?
Manufactures the best chocolate coated wafers and mallows.
How long has the company been exporting?
We started exporting in 1957 to Newfoundland.
What do you currently export, and where to?
The list is about thirty-five countries. Biggest market is Middle East. Current growing markets are Canada and Australia.
What motivated you to start selling overseas, and how long did it take?
The reason for the first export is lost in the mist of time. On some occasions, the customers came to us based on our reputation. Exporting spreads the risk of downturns in any one market.
What is the easiest part of exporting?
Persuading people of the value of what you are selling. I have been fortunate. I have always worked with good products.
And the most challenging part?
Usually the regulations. For example, packaging involves not just use of local languages but ensuring that the product meets local approval.
Have language barriers, currency changes, etiquette and culture ever caused you any difficulties? How did you overcome them?
Language barriers have not been too difficult. Currency fluctuations have caused business to be lost. As for etiquette, take advice about how to approach this and always be respectful. Don't be brash. This can cover up ignorance of local culture and practise.
Did you get any support when you wanted to trade abroad? Who from, and was it helpful?
The best support has always been in advice. I have never seen much financial help.
What advice would you give to someone just starting to explore overseas markets?
Ask. Ask. Ask. You cannot know everything. There is plenty advice available, officially, from trade associations, or even from other business people you know from other companies.
Exporting successfully means you have to take a longer view and have a longer strategy. It is easy to be disappointed at not getting the quick hit.
Where next? What markets are you looking into and where do you see the company in 5 years time?
The obvious ones are the emerging ones. It would be nice to start trading in China and India. Both have unique challenges. We need to be sure we could support it before embarking.
Exporting and international trade remain high on the Scottish Government’s economic growth agenda and the HSBC Scottish Export Awards are about recognising the excellence in those emerging, wealth creating companies that are selling their products, services and expertise in scores of overseas markets.