After years of selling health-related products globally, multi-lingual Victoria Boldison founded Bolst Global – fusing her passions for international business, health and wellness – to help UK health food and supplement brands export products and achieve global success.
Can you introduce us to Bolst Global and what you do?
Bolst Global supports small UK producers of health food and lifestyle brands to go international. We have a vision to help as many UK health foods thrive overseas as possible and to make healthier choices and lifestyles accessible to everyone worldwide.
At present, we offer three sales and marketing programmes tailored to the needs of scaling businesses who actively wish to pursue international business growth. From our BG bite-sized programme for ad hoc international projects, to our BG Superboost programme for outsourced ongoing export support, or the BG Organic in-house development of international sales and marketing teams, we can offer British brands a flexible and tailored export solution suitable for their needs and ambitions
If businesses are looking to promote and grow their presence overseas, what are the key things they should be looking to do?
The first thing I would say is to think about where there is likely to be enough sizeable demand for what you are selling. As the UK is fairly forward-thinking and innovative within the health food segment, then sometimes other international markets are lagging behind and don’t always understand the proposition and value of your product offering.
If you’ve had overseas businesses-to-business (B2B) or business-to-consumer (B2C) enquiries via your website already and they come from the same or similar markets, then this can also be a good indicator of where your product could sell well and you should investigate further.
The best thing you can do after some initial research is to get out to the market itself or attend international trade fairs and go talk to as many target customers, end users, retailers, trade associations and support agencies as possible.
Provided it is feasible and accessible then the best thing you can do after some initial research is to get out to the market itself or attend international trade fairs and go talk to as many target customers, end users, retailers, trade associations and support agencies as possible.
Done correctly, you can glean an incredible amount of invaluable information in just a few days by asking the right questions to a large spectrum of stakeholders. I recently did this for a client for a four-day trip in Europe and it cost less than £500 – you’d pay far more than that for a market report and without the same specific richness of data that can actually turn into sales!
Are there any specific laws or regulations that businesses have to be aware about when beginning overseas expansion? And how can they find out more about them?
Yes, of course there are a number of challenges that any business selling overseas will need to face. With food products, legally your product will need to be registered with the relevant health authorities in that market. This can delay time in gaining market entry. However, with a good partner (generally a distributor) on board and operating directly in the market, then they should be able to support you and help navigate you through this process.
There are also a number of support services, largely free of charge that companies can also tap in to in search of extra support when it comes to legal issues. For European markets I would suggest the Enterprise Europe Network. Then there is also the British Chambers of Commerce, the Department of International Trade, as well as often trade associations specific for different sectors too. The Open to Export website is also a great free online resource where you can ask these kind of questions and access a wealth of more general export information.
What are the biggest challenges of creating a global business?
I would say that finding the right partners overseas is the number one challenge our clients and brands in general encounter time and time again. For example, when you are working through overseas distributors, you are relying on someone else to effectively represent your brand. They also need to be a great fit with your product and business values, as well as be a business with a complementary product portfolio and with an existing target customer base for your product – quite a tall order!
This is why research around any prospective partners or approaches from interested parties should be undertaken to check how suitable they really are, as once you sign up with them it can be tricky changing course later down the line.
From experience, I can tell you that you will no doubt back some partners who, when you weren’t sure, unexpectedly do a great job, as well as others who you were sure would be great, who end up disappointingly poor! My advice is to build your business with the good partners and use your experiences to develop a check-list in your mind as to the kind of customer that works best for your product and your company values.
My advice is to build your business with the good partners and use your experiences to develop a check-list in your mind as to the kind of customer that works best for your product and your company values.
Is there any time when a business shouldn’t be looking to expand internationally? And how do you know when you’re ready?
As huge advocates of international trade, then naturally at Bolst Global given the successes we have seen with the brands we work with, we take a much more positive attitude towards exporting than most would.
Having said that, your business does need to be at a stage where it has some scalability of production (as export orders can become sizeable quite quickly!) and with at least a bit of traction in the UK market.
I don’t believe, like others do, that you need to be hugely established in the domestic market, but to have at least one or two reference points of retailers/wholesalers who are selling your brand and that overseas partners would recognise can go a long way to securing international interest.
Victoria Boldison is offering a free 30-minute export talk for any Green Contact Book members interested in exporting their product internationally. Please quote ‘Green Contact Book’ when contacting Bolst Global: Contact here.