Sara Keel, owner and founder of Babycup
Babycup, a Surrey-based manufacturer of a specially designed open cup for babies, has secured an export deal that will see over 60,000 of its cups sold across China in the next twelve months.
The business secured the contract with a Chinese distributor after attending the KIND + JUGEND trade fair in Germany. Babycup attended the event with support from the Department for International Trade (DIT) through its Tradeshow Access Programme (TAP). The programme provides grant funding for eligible businesses towards the costs of exhibiting at overseas trade shows.
The growing demand for British-made infant products in China, largely driven by the country’s burgeoning middle class, and the cup’s success so far in the market, means that the order value is likely to increase by 2000% over the next year.
Full-time mother, and an ex wing-walker, Sara Keel founded Babycup in 2013 following years of being unable to find a cup without a spout or lid for her young children. She decided to create an open cup that was easy for babies to drink from and hold, whilst being in line with recommendations from leading orthodontists and dentists.
After starting out selling the cup to buyers in the UK, including the NHS, Sara recognised that her cup had universal appeal, and began exporting almost immediately.
Exporting now makes up 80% of Babycup’s total sales thanks to demand from customers in markets such as Japan, Thailand and the US, where it has now set up a distribution centre to fulfil orders across the country.
Over 30,000 cups have also been distributed by the Government of Canada through a health programme for indigenous Canadians, which aims to tackle the issue of poor child oral health in the population.
Sara Keel, owner and founder of Babycup, said: “Exporting was an obvious extension to the business. Families the world over want what’s ‘best for baby’. The potential audience for Babycup First Cups is universal and the market is as big as the birth rate.
“We’ve secured a lot of our overseas business, including the deal with the Canadian Government, through our website. The Chinese deal was aided by us being active on social media and talking about our cup and the issues it addressed.
“Understanding cultural differences presents its own challenges when you export. For example, in Japan, nurseries are very popular, and often include a tea ritual at the end of the day, so it makes sense to market our cups to this industry. But in China, young children are looked after by extended family during the day, so that’s a whole different audience
“We’ve created a second website just for our US customers as descriptions of products are expected to use more direct language. It’s common there to compare your products with competitors, something we shy away from in the UK. But there are strict regulations around how you do this - claims have to be truthful and backed up.
“There are also logistical quirks to keep in mind. When you export to China you need to label your product in Chinese, but this has to be stuck over the English label instead of just replacing it, so customers can see it is an authentic British product.
“I’d encourage other businesses who are thinking about exporting to get out there and do it. We are doing it and you can too.”
Ben Raby, head of South East DIT, said: “Babycup is a shining example of a business that has committed itself to getting a British-made product out there on a global scale. Sara recognised that her product had international appeal and acted on it, something that will make her business more profitable and more resilient.
“Goods that are manufactured in Britain carry with them a promise of quality, which means they are sought after by overseas consumers. The support is out there f businesses to get these products in front of customers and we encourage anyone considering taking their first or next steps in exporting to get in touch.”
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