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10 tips for doing business with European buyers of processed fruit and vegetables

Takes about 12 minutes to read

European buyers of processed fruit and vegetables expect excellent quality, food safety, service and a competitive price. In some market segments additional requirements for sustainability are important, such as organic and fair trade. Here, you’ll find ten key tips for doing business with European processed fruit and vegetables buyers.


1 . Choose your market entry approach carefully

When you start looking for buyers, think about what kind of buyers you would like to work with. This will narrow down your search and increase your success rate in turning prospects to customers.

Your options include selling to traders or distributors, packers and final product manufacturers. You may also consider using an agent to help you connect to such buyers. As a first step, decide on your product market combination. This is the specific market (defined by country and segment) that you want to target with a specific product or product group.

If you sell fruit juices and concentrates in bulk for example, you will want to look for packers, blenders and food manufacturers who use your products. You can either try contacting them directly, or you can go through importers and agents.

If you sell finished products, such as canned fruit and vegetables, you will need to target either the retail or the catering market. You can look for distributors and agents who target these particular markets. However, if the retail is your target market be prepared for very strict requirements including sustainable packing and testing of products.

If you export organic processed fruit and vegetables, you will need to target the niche market segment for organic food products. This segment is served by entirely different importers than the general market.

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2 . Meet the required quality and safety standards

The European market is very demanding when it comes to food quality and safety. Many buyers will have quality managers who are responsible for monitoring the quality and safety of the food and ingredients they buy. These people have the power to make or break a deal. Make sure you know what their requirements are, and ensure that your products comply with them.

Examples of expected food-safety certifications include BRC Global Standards (BRC: British Retail Consortium), Safe Quality Food (SQF), International Food Standard (IFS) and Food Safety System Certification (FSSC 22000), which are all recognised by the Global Food Safety Initiative, and ISO22000 from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). The Global Food Safety Initiative was created by retailers and manufacturers in an effort to harmonize requirements for food safety.

Safety of processed fruit and vegetables is regulated by European law, but private standards (such as those mentioned above) are also widely used. Familiarise yourself with market requirements in your target sector.

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3 . Provide reliable product specifications

Product specifications define the type and quality of the product that you will supply. They will be legally binding when you close a deal, so make sure that they reflect the true characteristics of your product. They should also be aligned with legal requirements. When you issue a quotation, send this product specification with it. You can also provide additional information that underlines the quality of your products, such as laboratory analysis and quality and safety certificates. These are good tools for your sales process.

Product specifications define the characteristics of your products and will be included in contracts. Remember to include the following:

  • a description of your product
  • the grade
  • the purity
  • maximum levels of contaminants such as mycotoxins, heavy metals and pesticide residues.
  • Brix level, especially for fruit juices and concentrates
  • moisture content, especially for dried fruits
  • if your product has been in touch with any allergens, these must be declared as well
  • variety of fruit or vegetable used in the processing
  • shelf life of the product
  • quantity of preservative(s) if used.

Tips:

  • Ask buyers for their product specifications and compare them with your own. Identify the gaps and discuss them before making a deal.
  • Traceability is a big trend, and many buyers are interested in knowing exactly where your products come from. If possible, try to meet this demand by providing information on your website and in your production information.

4 . Develop a B2B brand

It is a good idea to develop a brand for your company. This works well in business-to-business (B2B) trade in a similar way to business-to-consumer (B2C) trade.

Communicate your brand consistently on all of your media platforms, your website, social media, in your emails, newsletters, quotations, letters and business cards for example. Creating a brand will make you more unique and recognisable, and will add value to your business.

How you present yourself is also important. Create one clear message in a consistent style, which tells how your products and company can make a difference in the market. Think about benefits of your proposition both for customer and end-users of your product.

Target this information at your potential buyers. Choose issues that they will understand and relate to.

Be honest. Do not advertise products or services you cannot deliver.

Tips:

  • Identify and communicate your Unique Selling Points (USPs). These are the most relevant issues that make you stand out in the eyes of your buyers. For inspiration you can think about your product type and quality, your food safety system, your approach to Corporate Social Responsibility, but also your service level, delivery options and price can be relevant.
  • Read our study about competition on the European processed fruit and vegetables market to help you identify your USPs.
  • Some examples of strong B2B brands are the multinational trading company Olam and, of a smaller size, the Dutch superfruit importer, Berrico. But the list is really endless. Every successful company needs to present itself professionally to the market.

5 . Set reasonable prices

Keep up to date on price fluctuations and market trends. This is a good way of knowing how to set your prices and whether or not your buyers are offering you market-acceptable prices.

When selling to Europe, you will initially have to depend on prices offered to you by traders. Once you are more familiar with the market and able to anticipate market trends, you will have a tiny margin to set your own price. Remember, that the prices of processed fruit and vegetables are dictated by the international market, and there is little flexibility in setting your own prices.

When starting a business in a new market, one approach is to keep prices a little lower than competition. Buyers will not easily switch to new suppliers without additional benefits. This is especially true of the offers from developing countries which are new in offering particular products.

Once you are in the market, you can try to upgrade your buyer portfolio, and thus improve your average sales price. However, buyers willing to pay more will also be more demanding in terms of quality, logistics and service. So be realistic about your possibilities.

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6 . Provide correct packaging and transportation

Make sure that your products are well protected during transport. Processed fruit and vegetables can be packed in a variety of ways, depending on the product and market segment. Juices and concentrates are often traded as aseptic produce, meaning that they are kept at ambient temperatures after sterilisation. Alternatively, they can be transported as frozen. Edible nuts and dried fruits are often transported in multi-layered cardboard bags or in a bag in a cardboard box.

The terms under which processed fruit and vegetables are generally shipped are:

  • Free on Board (FOB) – named origin: you will deliver products onto the ship at port of departure; sea freight is paid by your buyer.
  • Cost and Freight (CFR) – named destination. This means that you will deliver products to an export port or to the port of destination.
  • Cost Insurance Freight (CIF) – named destination: the same as above but with insurance added. Insurance is always strongly recommended.
  • Ex Works (EXW) – named place of delivery: The seller makes the goods available at their premises, or at another named place. This term is used to quote a price without any further obligations, and it is also widely used for sales that do not involve sea transport.
  • Free on Carrier (FCA) – named place of delivery: The seller delivers the goods, cleared for export, at a named place (possibly including the seller's own premises).

Most buyers will hire a forwarding agent to arrange further transportation.

Lead times and delivery times are very important factors when managing your exports, as is timeliness. Make sure you are punctual and do not make agreements you cannot keep.

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7 . Meet your buyers in person

Buyers in this sector value personal contact. It is especially important if you want to build long-term business relationships.

Try to meet your customers face-to-face in an early stage of the relationship. This will lay down the foundations for making agreements and solving problems later on. If your buyer is located in the country where you will visit or exhibit in a trade fair, try to arrange a meeting in her/his office before the trade fair.

If you can’t meet your buyers in person, you can try to arrange phone or Skype meetings.

Tips:

  • When contacting buyers or prospects, make sure you address them personally. Refrain from general mailings.
  • Use sector events such as trade fairs and conferences to meet your business contacts. For more information, see our tips for finding buyers in processed fruit and vegetables.

8 . Be aware of differences in business cultures

In Europe, business cultures and ways of communicating differ considerably from country to country. Be aware that your way of doing business is probably quite different to the way buyers do business in Europe.

It is therefore important for you to have a basic understanding of who your buyers are. You will need to adapt your business style to suit theirs.

Having said this, the traders in the processed fruit and vegetables sector are quite similar. They are mostly professional, pragmatic and to the point. They will appreciate personal contact, and putting professionality first.

If you are lucky enough to visit (potential) clients in their home countries, do your research before you go. Then your interaction with clients will be fun as well as fruitful.

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9 . Deliver what you promise

The No. 1 mistake made by suppliers, is to make promises you can’t keep. Be realistic and honest about what you can offer. Otherwise you will soon damage your business relationships.

Make sure you deliver your products according to the specifications you have agreed with your buyer: agreed delivery times and packaging requirements for example.

If you are aware of any shortcomings in your product (unable to match the sample quality for example), you must discuss this with your buyer straight away. Make sure you inform buyers about problems quickly and make yourself part of the solution.

Things can go wrong, but as the exporter, you will be expected to take a leading role in solving it. Try to be pro-active in this.

10 . Keep learning

In the process of doing business, you have access to a lot of information. Especially in conversations with buyers and prospects they will tell you about emerging trends, new requirements and current prices. Make sure you are attentive to this information and record it properly. You can also actively arrange for opportunities to talk with your relations at leisure, for example over dinner. In a few years’ time, you will have become an expert in your industry.

Tips:

  • Make sure you have an open eye for developments in your industry. Record your findings in your own market information system.
  • For more established businesses it is a common pitfall to continue doing the same thing for too long and forget to innovate. Be open to emerging opportunities for introducing new products or addressing new markets.
  • Read more about current developments in our study on trends for processed fruit and vegetables in European markets.

Please review our market information disclaimer.

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