Four ways exporters have expanded against the odds

In challenging times, Australian exporters have sought fresh markets, refined their communications and found new customers. Here’s how 3 impressive businesses pivoted successfully in international markets in 2020.

Exploring new markets - quickly

Many of the businesses that have stabilised or even grown their exports over the past year have done so by looking beyond their traditional export markets and forging new relationships.

When COVID-19 hit, Essential Oils of Tasmania faced a sudden reduction in demand from existing customers. These included some of the world’s leading fragrance, flavour, aromatherapy and oral care brands in Western Europe and the US.

In response, EOT adjusted its focus to growing new sales in other high-value markets including Japan, Taiwan and China. As a result – and with demand eventually recovering in traditional markets – EOT grew export sales in 2020 by around 20%. 

Macka’s Australian Black Angus Beef made a similar move. Until the pandemic hit, the NSW premium beef supplier was only supplying into China. When the world suddenly changed, the 136-year-old business had to find novel solutions.

“Like everyone, we faced complete uncertainty as the pandemic escalated,” says Marc Robson, Chief Operating Officer. “We had to find new markets, we had to find the strength to find solutions when even the biggest of producers were struggling.”

Macka’s assessed the global beef market and developed a strategy to enter new export markets. From distributing into one country, Macka’s is now exporting to 11 countries across Asia and the Middle East. Its business is growing during the beef industry’s most difficult period in recent history.

Adopting niche export strategies

To access new export markets and customers, Essential Oils of Tasmania changed its business model. It now focuses on selling smaller-volume oil products to more niche buyers in high-value market sectors.

This has created a new set of challenges: more freighting, more complex logistics, more packaging and more interaction with a greater number of customers. But the business rose to the challenge and has gained more than 75 new high-value customers globally.

The pandemic also prompted family-owned Farmhand Foods in Western Australia to rethink its approach. When the cost of ingredients surged, the business had to switch its focus from growth to stability. But owner Garry Kukura soon realised he was imposing barriers on the business that did not necessarily exist.

Garry realised there were potential customers overseas who wanted to buy Farmhand’s Australian-made products. And by researching similar small businesses, he discovered some were exporting overseas despite their size.

So, the company partnered with a Queensland-based exporter, Australian Fresh Exports, which wanted to add grocery items to its range of fresh produce. As a result, Farmhand Foods entered Singapore – its first overseas market – in mid 2020.

“It was important for us to step outside our normal operating parameters and stop thinking that just because we were small, we couldn't think and act big,” says Garry. “We found different ways of doing things and then put them into action.”

Communicating the value

Building a strong brand story and communicating your unique selling proposition is critical to export success, especially during tough times.

As a premium beef supplier, Macka’s commands premium prices. So communicating value is vital in securing customers who are willing to pay. One reason the business was able to enter new markets in 2020 was its ability to tell its story in a unique and compelling way. The team also tailored presentations for different markets based on their values and priorities.

This was also critical to the success of Essential Oils of Tasmania. The company invested in social media advice and updated its website to share information with new customers about what makes EOT and Tasmania so unique.

“Despite the uncertainty created by COVID, it has also presented new opportunities for brand Australia,” says Simon Wells, EOT’s Executive Director. “The product qualities increasingly in demand from international consumers are often the same qualities synonymous with Australian innovation.”  

Reaching out to new partners

A common theme among businesses that have grown exports against the odds is relying on a strong team of dedicated employees. And it’s often just as important to forge partnerships with external partners and experts.

“Despite our relative commercial and strategic success in 2020, it was the ability of our small team to pivot, innovate and respond to unexpected challenges that I am most proud of,” says Simon from Essential Oils of Tasmania.

For Macka’s, getting strategic advice from solution-driven industry partners gave the business an edge. It helped the business expand with integrity in a complex industry. Macka’s also established a resilient, hardworking team that “has succeeded in the toughest environment.”

“I am proud of our team and how they have shown resilience in a time of complete turmoil and uncertainty,” says Robert Mackenzie, Owner and Director.

For Farmhand Foods, cementing a team of people and engaging with partners helped the business go global in one of the toughest ever years for exports.

“With the help of the Australian Government, we formalised employment arrangements that provided certainty for us and our employees,” says Garry. “This also gave us more flexibility to capture opportunities quickly.”

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