Strategy | September 28, 2020

Looking to Export? Here's What to Consider

For a lot of food and beverage brands, expanding distribution into the United States or other international markets holds a great deal of opportunity and promise. But taking that step also requires a lot of planning and strategic decisions to ensure ROI.

By Nate Douglas

From researching the market to packaging and regional awareness, there are a lot of key decisions to make before taking the leap into exporting.

By putting in the work up-front, with diligent research and strategizing, you can save yourself unnecessary headaches down the line. Here are some key areas to consider.

Maximize Your Time

Timing is everything. It is one of the most valuable resources you have, but without diligent management, it can also be one of the biggest roadblocks in your way. We all want to get our product to market as quickly as possible, so when looking at export considerations, remember taking the time upfront to properly inform a plan is the best way to maximize your time.

I like to follow these 5 steps:


Doing your homework ahead of time is key to a successful export plan. Do your due diligence, and make sure you know the answers to questions such as:

  • What does category acceptance look like within this international market?
  • How big is the category? Is there availability or awareness already built-in, or is this brand new?
  • What is the distribution channel? Is it retail, food service, online?
  • What is the size of the market you are expanding into?
  • What is the seasonality of your marketing? Google trends can be a simple way to investigate.
  • Are there any regional nuances you should be aware of?
  • What does affordability look like? Can you afford to do this from a budgetary standpoint?


The next step is all about the plan and how you are going to win. Determining what your objectives are is critical. Do you want to grow or to disrupt? How fast do you want to grow?

This is the stage where you should really nail down other questions, such as:

  • Who is the target audience?
  • Who is the competition?
  • Who does this same thing really well, and who doesn’t? What can you learn from both?
  • What is your product mix going to be?
  • What is right for export, in regards to both flavour and pricing?

When considering pricing, be honest with yourself. Can you afford to export at this time? What will the margins be, and can your P&L bear that?

Finally – communication, communication, communication! Getting consumers aware of the product is one element but remember that you also need to be able to communicate your business plan effectively and succinctly to retailers and distributors. This is the time to do a bit more research in the form of market testing or focus groups, to hone-in on messaging.


For legal and language considerations, exporting your product is going to require adaptions to packaging and communications – as well as potential flavours or product mixes.

A great example of adapting to a regionalized market is Quebec.

A Canadian product offered in Quebec is still going to need regionalized adaptions. But it’s not just a matter of adding French to a label. If you were to just translate from English to Parisian French, you would not get the same reaction as if you were to do the work in Quebecois. Speaking to people in the correct manner, in both the language and tone that they speak, shows a submersion of culture to your consumer base – and will give the best output.


Relationships are foundational to good business and are really important at the sell-in stage. Make sure you have proper partners in place to not only sell but distribute is a whole lot easier when you have those connections established.

Think about timing and determine how you will support your awareness campaign with retailers. For example, something that has worked well is using e-commerce or a digital campaign to direct consumers to a specific retailer. Regional exclusivity is also available as a negotiation tactic.

Remember to consider:

  • Pricing – what’s in it for your partners
  • Positioning & Communication Plan
  • In-store support
  • Sales team support
  • Sell sheets
  • Sales deck and product samples

All of the above are important to make sure that we get that product on the shelf.


The last critical step in maximizing your time is building awareness with your consumer base. You’ve researched, you’ve determined location, you’ve adapted to that region and now getting people to sample and try your product is key.

Word of mouth is huge, and digital strategies work really well here to create that conversation. Leverage social media and brand influencers to build up a consumer base and spread word of your product.

Maximize Your Budget

There are three main things to consider when looking to maximize your budget: stay focused, use what you have, and have a crystal-clear plan in place.


Resist the urge to spread your plans and budget thin. Who has unlimited resources to pour into their marketing efforts? I know I sure don’t and I have yet to meet a client who does! Find your focus, then keep it. Consider:

  • Location. When you have a minimal marketing budget and need it to stretch, location is critical. Consumer touchpoints, media, and regionalization all count here.
  • Product portfolio. Laser in on the products your consumer base will respond most to. Remember your research and objectives and keep your product offerings aligned.
  • Influencers. Influencer marketing has great potential for impact and brand-building but be selective. One or two of the right people are going to earn you better ROI than many of the wrong.
  • Timing. If you try to spread your campaign dollars throughout an entire year, you might find yourself struggling on thin ice. Find a particular time when your product offering is most appealing or when there is influential buying time, and plan to be there for it!

Use What You Have

Remember to use the strengths you already have! What is that one thing that makes you stand apart from the crowd?

We want to take that, creatively talk about it, and get people to remember you for it. The best part is…that thing already exists! Rather than watering down communication with too many messages, hone-in on your unique value add and let people fall in love.

You might already have certain physical advantages, as well. Leverage those! Are you already in a store and on their shelves? How can you use that location to the best of its ability? Remember, the closer you are to the people buying the product, the better – use your location to its max.

Make sure your packaging and website are tight. Getting breakthrough on a shelf is not always that easy, and people tend to buy with their eyes. In the digital realm, make sure your key information is easy to find and then optimize your site so people can find you.

If you already have a following in Canada, let your hardcore fans know about your expansion. People have family and friends all over so use email and social media to get your message out about the expansion.

Clear Plan

Again, we come back to know before you go. An informed plan is a powerful plan and will help you avoid mistakes along the way.

Are you aware of all foreseeable costs? Do you have a pricing strategy set? What is your focused location? Is there a certain time of year your product will be offered? How can you use digital marketing to leverage assets you’ve already used in your domestic market? What are the costs to adapt your packaging and communication?

Who are the people in place for this plan to succeed? Consider your internal personnel, but also your distributors and sales brokers. Know who is responsible for each step, and make sure your hand-off points are clear-cut. The baton must be passed without anyone dropping it.

Understanding the marketplace, your distribution channels and logistics of your business will help determine what the best approach is in terms of scaling, prioritization and execution for your marketing budget when looking at international expansion.