Primrose Matheson started her gluten free muesli, granola and nut butter brand from her kitchen table in Dorset. The products are now stocked around the world including in some of France's most prestigious stores. Primrose shares the story behind Primrose's Kitchen and her advice for exporting across the Channel.
If you'd like to export your food or drink product to France, join our trade mission to Paris on 27-28 March. Meet buyers, on the ground experts, the British ambassador to France and lots more! Book your place here.
How did you come up the idea for your products and turn that idea into an actual business?
The idea came after years of issues with my own health and having turned to natural medicine to help with it. I loved breakfast and couldn't find a breakfast bursting with goodness and colour so decided to make my own. Having studied naturopathy after school, coupled with the things I learnt from my own health, I knew some of the ingredients that I wanted to put in it. It started very organically just making small batches from my kitchen table and selling to local independent stores and farmers markets and grew from there. There was no plan as such, just some happy customers that kept me producing.
What key start-up challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?
Not knowing where to start! So I started small, testing the market.
Money to buy the equipment and ingredients I needed. I borrowed £5,000 from my father.
The main challenge is a mental one. Am I mad? Will this go anywhere? I have ups and downs like any human being but when you can learn to control the fears in your mind and trust them, the magic happens. Being close to nature is the quickest and easiest way of doing this. Take regular walks or work in the garden and ground yourself. I'm lucky in Dorset as there is a lot of space to do this but trips to the park could be the same.
Knowing how to get more larger customers was also something I didn't know how to do. Ask around for the best and biggest trade fair in your country and invest in that. It will put you in front of all the people you need to meet. Like so many other businesses it's usually who you know rather than what you know.
What research did you do before picking France as an export market for your products?
I didn't do any, I was lucky that I had customers in France ordering the products online so we could see there was a desire for them. I was approached by a distributor who already had a store that wanted to list my products and it went from there. Sometimes we can overthink things but the proof is in the pudding. If distributors/retailers keep re-ordering and the orders grow, you have a market. Once that is in motion you can then make more of a plan depending on where you want to take the brand.
Where in France are you selling your products and how did you secure them as stockists?
La Grande Epicerie, Galleries La Fayette, independent stores and delis. My initial French stockists saw the products in other stores when they were in the UK and then approached me. New stores come through my distributors now. I send products for potential retailers to try and then prices are discussed and then new stockists are confirmed.
What's your advice for business owners wanting to do the same?
Target key premium stores with a good name for themselves in the country you are interested in. Find the name and contact of the buyer and send them the products or arrange a meeting to go and see them. If the product is good it should speak for itself. Putting a presentation together with the product, explaining who you are and the USPs of the product is also a good idea, alongside any additional support you can offer for marketing. This could just be some free stock, a sampling once a month or leaflets.
What key characteristics should UK food and drink entrepreneurs bear in mind when targeting the French consumer?
Each country already has its own unique traditions when it comes to food and drink. Muesli and granola were not traditional in France but the croissant was! That still is a challenge although the rise of the supermarket and international brands is changing this. I think it's important to educate the buyer and consumer that little bit more and give them ideas on how to use your product. Make comparisons perhaps with what they would ordinarily be eating.
What are your top tips for making a success of exporting to France?
- Compare price points between your product and similar ones on the market so you know where you sit and can argue for your product with a comparison if needs be
- Make sure you have French language on your packaging
- Choose a good distributor with experience and good relationships with main stores and chains
- Visit the country and get a feel for the store and the people you are selling to
If you've been inspired by Primrose's success, join our food and drink trade mission to Paris on 27-28 March. Meet buyers, on the ground experts, the British ambassador to France and lots more! Book your place here.
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