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How to export successfully

'You cannot expect to have a quality product in Australia and then stick to the same costing principles or margin exceptions when you export.'
Jarrod Edward, Ferndale Confectionery

Top tips

  • Don't try to profit from foreign currency fluctuations, lock in a rate in advance to ensure stability
  • Be cautious when doing overseas deals, they can collapse through no fault of your own
  • Find good staff who are effective multi-taskers

The struggles of a severely diabetic family member 20 years ago led Bruce Edward to a business opportunity. An engineer at confectionery giant Mars for many years, Bruce spotted a hole in the market for tasty sugar-free treats.

That idea was the launchpad for Ferndale Confectionery. The Ballarat business develops, manufactures and packages a range of sugar-free, fat-free products with natural flavours and colours, including Jila mints and chewing gum. 

Be flexible in exploring new business opportunities

When starting the business in 1995, Bruce's plan was to develop products and outsource all of the production. But he couldn't find a factory to meet his needs, says Bruce's son Jarrod, who is now Ferndale's general manager (Bruce has now retired). Staying flexible and open to opportunities, Ferndale set up its own in-house production.

This led to the company manufacturing and packaging for other companies too. It's now an important part of the business--about a third of all sales turnover. "We're utilising our equipment and our skills but we don't have the overheads of sales and marketing," says Jarrod. "We're doing it for someone else and we just make a straight margin off providing a service to them."

Have clear goals

The Edward family has stuck with a clear vision since starting Ferndale, using their own hierarchy of principles to reinforce goals.

1. Quality: the most important aspect of the company's output. "Quality is a bunch of things," says Jarrod. "It's consistency, it's freshness, it's performance." They might spend years developing a product, focusing first on the quality.

2. Value: Consumers find value in a product not just in the price but the perceived value, says Jarrod. This could be in the quality or uniqueness in the marketplace.

3. Availability: Once quality and value are met, Ferndale will focus on distribution to supermarkets and other retail outlets.

4. Advertising and promotion: The company will only start marketing its products once they're being sold, rather than promoting a product prior to launch.

Managing risk when exporting

Sticking to sound principles has also led to strong sales in some overseas markets. But Jarrod and his brother Leigh, the general manager of sales, are careful about their export business. There are many uncontrollable factors at play when dealing with other countries. They try to minimise risk with foreign currency fluctuations, for instance, by purchasing currency six months ahead to lock in a rate.

The brothers take a conservative approach to building their brands overseas. "You cannot expect to have a quality product in Australia and then stick to the same costing principles or margin exceptions when you export."

Value the team

The Edward family are quick to reward their staff for loyalty and hard work. "I'm just a massive believer in the old saying that a happy workforce is an efficient workforce," says Jarrod.

This means barbecues on Fridays and weekly supplies of fruit. Other rewards include movie vouchers and gift cards. "We see the results, we've seen the efficiency of the place improve," says Jarrod. "We got to 1200 days without an injury in the factory, which in manufacturing these days is unheard of."

The result

The Edward family's cautious approach in bringing their established products overseas has paid off. Ferndale's Jila mints and chewing gum, licorice-flavoured Licorette pastilles and high-fibre Slim Fruits pastilles are now sold across Australia and also exported to 14 countries including the United Kingdom and the United States.