Global Outlook
Published:  07 January, 2011

A couple of lines in a German trade review recently attracted my attention. The discreet Zur Mühlen group is one of the largest processors of all kinds of sausages, not only in Germany but also in Europe. Its 3,000 staff churn out some 300,000t under several well-known brands. The firm has also recently opened a new research centre, thus joining a rarefied league of Brazilian, US or Chinese companies with global reach.

However, what really attracted my interest was that the company now has 11 overseas offices covering some 40 markets in Europe, the Middle East and Australasia. Since 2008, Zur Mühlen and Tillmann (Tönnies Convenience Foods) have merged their export sales force in Zur Mühlen International. The group now exports 25% of its very large production.

The dramatic meat export success of Tönnies, Westfleisch, Vion and Danish Crown, based on long-term sales and marketing involvement in target markets, is now mirrored in the field of processed meats and shows the German export machine sorry, juggernaut at its best.

There are obvious lessons for UK exporters. The first relates to the importance of investing proactively, consistently and for the long term in chosen markets, preferably with a local sales force. The second lesson is that, in 2010, a wide geographical spread and a greater choice of markets is preferable in order to minimise risks, widen product offer and optimise profits. Thirdly, critical mass is highly valuable for exports.

To those who still believe that UK export marketing should be limited to France, Benelux and Italy, let me say that, core markets though they may be, the example of most successful European meat exporting nation shows that a wider net is preferable. As we enter a new decade, trade battles will not be won with 1980s means and, to change, we must adapt.