Spreading export opportunities in Asia

Written on the 5 June 2009

Spreading export opportunities in Asia

RUBENS Fine Foods is expanding its product range while maintaining export opportunities across the Asia Pacific.

The Nerang-based company specialises in producing pâte and supplies major retailers across Australia and specialty delicatessens in the Asia-Pacific with delectable goodies. Singapore and Indonesia are the key offshore markets for the brand.

Director Dirk Weemaes explains that, initially the product was difficult to popularise. But the proof was in the pâté as Australians took to the idea as an ‘entertainment food’.

“We had a steep learning curve, both for ourselves and for our customers because really pâté wasn’t all that popular and it was not represented in the retail chains.” says Weemaes.
“Pâté was a bit alien to the Australian consumer. The way we overcame that was by establishing this as an entertainment food, where as in Europe it was a commodity food, an everyday food.”
A similar situation unfolded in the Asian Pacific countries which came as a surprise to the Belgium born businessman who grew up with the spreads.

“Initially when we enter a new market in the Asian Pacific, we target the expat community and go into the international stores. Gradually we are finding that as the local populations travel and experiences things, the sales grow,” he says.

Although Rubens’ export opportunities are continuously growing and expanding, there are some markets which remain out of reach. Legislation has made it a challenging process.
“Because we do meat, Europe and the USA are out reach for us because of legislation and regulations, which is a pity because that is where really the bulk of the market is for us,” he says.

“In the case of the USA, often there are of course administrative regulations to protect their own markets. You can probably organise export to the US, providing you are listed on the US exporters list which in itself is a major process. It involves American inspectors coming here and the other expensive thing is whenever you produce an American export an inspector would have to be present.”

Rubens Fine Foods has a unique production process which involves creating and mixing the product raw followed by baking it in the packaging; as opposed to baking and then packaging. This gives Rubens an exclusive competitive edge.

“It’s a very safe way of doing it, you get an extraordinary long shelf life; all the pâtés in Australia have a shelf life of about six weeks on average where as we have an easy four months,” he says.

The company is in the midst of a product launch which is set to add a touch of pizzazz to the traditional sandwich. The product Weemaes refers to as ‘lunch in a tub’ provides various combinations of seafood, meat and chicken with sauces ready to spread onto sandwiches.

“It’s such a convenient versatile food. And we are just flabbergasted that bigger companies haven’t jumped on it,” he says.

“We spent a lot of time on research. What many people do is just jump in and try a concept that is very popular in Europe and that hardly ever works (here). We tested it on about 16 focus groups and the first round we did we had it completely wrong. So we had to change the recipe, appearance and structure.”

While the product is still in its very early launch stage, Weemaes believes company growth will be steady, predicting double digits around the 15 per cent mark for the 2009 FY.


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