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Export success with premium fruit juice

The topic of exports suffered in 2020. To make sure it doesn't stay that way in 2021, it's worth taking a look at best practice examples. Like that of the fruit juice producer Haus Rabenhorst from Unkel in Germany, because the company even recorded rising sales figures in the Corona year! In an interview International Sales Director Peter Weishaupt makes clear that the most important thing is to individually design the export strategy and find the right partners.

filling system at rabenhorst
Peter Weishaupt head of international sales rabenhorstPeter Weishaupt has been responsible for the export business for twelve years as International Sales Director (Picture: Haus Rabenhorst)

Best Practice Example Beverage Export

Founded in 1805, Haus Rabenhorst started out as a small winery, but has since specialised in premium juice in the organic segment and produces 15 million litres of direct juice annually, which are filled into 36 million bottles. The medium-sized company distributes the Rabenhorst and Rotbäckchen brands with over 51 active partners in 39 countries. Peter Weishaupt has been responsible for the export business for twelve years and already gave insights into the export strategy of the fruit juice manufacturer at the Export Forum German Beverages 2020 as part of the BrauBeviale Special Edition. In this interview, he describes what he believes is important for successfully exporting beverages.

 

Mr Weishaupt, when did your company enter the fruit juice export business?

Peter Weishaupt: The exact starting point can no longer be determined. But the first export activities came about in the early 1950s with the launch of the Rotbäckchen brand - that was still an occasional export. Haus Rabenhorst responded to individual enquiries from Belgium and Switzerland at that time.From the 1980s onwards, export activities are better documented, but it was still a passive export business.

 

When was export strategically approached at Haus Rabenhorst?

Weishaupt: My predecessor developed the first strategic export concepts and did market analyses in the mid-2000s. Since then, we have taken the topic of export seriously and made it part of our corporate goals.
 
production berries at rabenhorstThe fruit juice producer relies on organic raw materials in premium quality and is successful with them at home and abroad (Picture: Haus Rabenhorst)

Was it clear from the start that there was a market abroad for German premium fruit juice?

Weishaupt: That has developed. For example, we benefited enormously from the economic dynamics that emerged in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Iron Curtain. So the markets in Eastern Europe were added to the Western European business. From there it developed further and we started to look at export markets overseas.
The more you show a presence at international trade fairs, are active on the internet and especially in networks, and become known in more and more countries, the more potential partners become aware of the brand. 
 

Did you work all this out for yourself or is there assistance that one can fall back on when setting up an export business as a beverage producer?

Weishaupt: In the first few years, market research was particularly difficult because the internet did not exist at that time. Trial and error was therefore often the method of choice.
In the course of systematisation, we looked specifically for export promotion opportunities. We didn't have huge budgets, we never took big risks or made advance payments. In this respect, it was important to make use of subsidised measures and to continuously develop the markets with a long-term perspective.
These are, on the one hand, trade fair appearances at trade fairs abroad, which are co-financed by the export promotion programme of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture. And secondly, organised business trips to selected target countries. In addition, information events on specific markets are offered within the framework of these programmes. The support here has become better and better in recent years.
In addition, the relevant export associations as well as the Chambers of Commerce Abroad are always available, and sometimes also agricultural advisers at the German embassies. This is how you get the relevant information through the networks you have built up. This also has a self-reinforcing effect, which takes time, but of course it also helps to be noticed by potential partners.
 
exhibition booth rabenhorstHaus Rabenhorst's presence at international trade fairs is an important component of its export strategy (Picture: Haus Rabenhorst)

What share does Haus Rabenhorst's export business have of the company's total turnover?

Weishaupt: Currently, we generate about 15 percent of the company's turnover with our export business. It is important to note that we have more than doubled the growth of our total turnover in the last twelve years. So in absolute terms, the export growth is even more gratifying.
And that's only with a brand! We want to develop the brand further - even if it takes longer - and reach 20 percent plus x in perspective. We deliberately discontinued the private label business a few years ago because it is not interesting for our corporate goals.
 

What are your most important target markets today?

Weishaupt: Our export business has so far been divided equally between the markets of Western Europe, Eastern Europe and Asia. In the last five years, the focus has clearly shifted towards Asia, where we now generate about 50 per cent of our export turnover.
Our biggest markets today are South Korea and China - but this has only developed in recent years. Hungary and Hong Kong are in third and fourth place. After that the Netherlands, France and Austria. The markets are very different. The Austrian market is the most comparable to the German market - the target groups are also relatively similar.
We have been present in Hungary for a very long time because we have a long-standing and very reliable partner there who has made us the market leader for high-quality juices there over the last 25 years. 
Another highlight is Hong Kong. We have been working there for over 20 years with the same partner who has made our Rabenhorst brand very well known there.
 
children with wellies and a apple basketThe Rotbäckchen brand has established itself nationally and internationally as a family brand (Picture: Haus Rabenhorst)

It seems that export success depends crucially on which partner you work with ...

Weishaupt: Absolutely! Of course it is important to have a good brand and a high quality product, but the partner is equally very crucial. It is essential to have a loyal and faithful partner who understands the product.
In all our top 10 markets, we work with small retail partners who distribute a few brands or, in some cases, only us. These partners are fully focused on our brands. With larger trade partners who represent 50 or 100 brands, we have made the experience that one is only one brand among many there. They may have greater opportunities to distribute our products at first, but the focus is not on that, and it shows.
 

With a product that requires more explanation, this is probably even more important ...

Weishaupt: Yes, because I have to and can tell something different about a cranberry juice than about a pomegranate juice, and I also have to explain why our products have a different pricing compared to a conventional juice.
They are not fast-moving items. The partner needs correspondingly more time to develop the brand.
 
functional drinksThe topic of functional drinks has arrived at the fruit juice manufacturer and is served with shots that function as food supplements (Picture: Haus Rabenhorst)

The core of the two brands remains the same in your export strategy - how do the target groups in the target markets differ?

Weishaupt: We had to learn that the target groups are clearly different from those in Germany. The Rotbäckchen brand is a family brand everywhere, but Rabenhorst in Germany appeals mainly to the 50+ generation, who traditionally shop in health food stores.
The differences already start in Europe. In England, for example, trends from the USA play a bigger role, and there we have a rather younger audience.
We have noticed this even more in Asia. In Hong Kong, younger women who belong to the LOHAS consumer type (editor's note: Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) buy our products. This is quite different from the relatively conservative target group we serve in Germany.
We have to react to these differences, and that also applies to the different marketing channels in the target countries. In South Korea, for example, we are very successful with teleshopping. We would never have thought of that ourselves. But thanks to our partner in Korea, who had experience with this kind of distribution, we entered this marketing channel, which is unusual for Germany. 
Only if you react flexibly to such opportunities and demands of the market and develop products and marketing strategies together with your partner will you be successful in export.
 

What role does social media play in your export strategy?

Weishaupt: Social media are crucial for us in export because they are used much more internationally than in Germany. With China and South Korea, for example, we have markets where social media platforms are partly used in a completely different way than in the West. For this, you have to have a good partner who is familiar with the local media landscape.
This shows once again that the choice of partner is the key to export. You can make a lot of mistakes here, and you can quickly lose a few years if you only realise after some time that you have the wrong partner.
Especially when it comes to social media, trust in the partner is very important. We give them the rough lines and a social media guide, but we cannot and do not want to control more from here.
 
warehouse logistics rabenhorstSmooth organisation of logistics is also part of export success (Picture: Haus Rabenhorst)

How do you find your partners?

Weishaupt: Our partners should definitely have competence in the relevant distribution channels for healthy products. On the basis of this pre-selection, personal talks are crucial, because food is an emotional product that needs to be explained. You have to develop a feeling for your partner and meet him several times.
 

Rabenhorst works with 51 export partners in 39 countries. Sounds complex ... How do you keep the threads together?

Weishaupt: The trips to our partners are of course a central point. But last year we had to learn to keep in touch in other ways. I miss travelling a lot. Sure, you can organise some things virtually, but personal contact remains crucial. 
In addition, you have to have a good organisation within the company itself to manage the partners in the target countries. We have three area managers who are responsible for Western and Eastern Europe and Asia and who set priorities there. A back office that covers our backs and organises the processing is also indispensable.
If you demand good reporting from the individual markets, you can steer the partners through it and set goals. But you also have to support them with budgets.
 
teleshopping in korea with rabenhorstIn Korea, the fruit juice producer relies on teleshopping and is successful with it (Picture: Haus Rabenhorst)

Do you also provide input from foreign markets to your product developers in Germany? Or do the impulses only flow in one direction?

Weishaupt: In fact, it now works both ways. Of course, we develop most product innovations here in Germany. But there are also good examples where our foreign partners have approached us with ideas. 
In the 2000s, the wheatgrass trend spilled over from the USA to England. And our English partner asked us if we could develop a drink with wheatgrass. We are still selling the product very successfully in England and Hungary. 
In 2020, we developed the new product category Shots, which serves the trend towards functional drinks. The idea for a new variant came from our Korean partners, who said that we should dose our food supplements differently for the Korean market.
So after a long preparation, coordination and test phase, we developed a product with our own recipe, which we would not offer and market in Germany due to different consumer habits. In Korea, we are now launching a big home shopping campaign with it, with hopefully great success ...

 

With your many years of export experience, what tips do you have for beverage producers from Germany who want to export?

Weishaupt: In a nutshell: Use your networks, establish export business as a corporate goal and observe the markets closely in order to be able to react flexibly to developments.