Nearly 4.5 bil­lion peo­ple live in Asia – and the world’s most pop­u­lous con­ti­nent is only poised to be­come more im­por­tant as the economies of its 48 separate na­tions con­tinue to de­velop.


This, of course, means there’s big money to be made for Kiwi busi­nesses wish­ing to ex­port their prod­ucts to Asia – or im­port prod­ucts from there. But let’s be hon­est: it’s well-known many New Zealand com­pa­nies strug­gle to achieve suc­cess over­seas.

So what can be done to fix the prob­lem? That’s pre­cisely what the Asia New Zealand Foun­da­tion is try­ing to fig­ure out – and it’s do­ing so by bring­ing to­gether Kiwi en­trepreneurs and their Asian coun­ter­parts to dis­cuss the chal­lenges.

Top South­east Asian food and bev­er­age busi­ness lead­ers and en­trepreneurs spoke at the New Zealand Food Sum­mit in March as part of a pro­gramme run by the Asia New Zealand Foun­da­tion. The seven Asian en­trepreneurs who took part vis­ited Aotearoa through the ASEAN Young Busi­ness Lead­ers Ini­tia­tive, man­aged by the Asia New Zealand Foun­da­tion for the New Zealand Gov­ern­ment.

The visit also in­cluded meet­ings with in­no­va­tive New Zealand food and bev­er­age com­pa­nies, such as Ripe Cof­fee, CHIA, Welling­ton Cho­co­late Fac­tory, Fix and Fogg and Spring Sheep. Those com­pa­nies have al­ready made con­nec­tions with South­east Asian coun­ter­parts through the ASEAN Young Lead­ers Ini­tia­tive.

ASEAN Young Busi­ness Lead­ers Ini­tia­tive project man­ager Adam McCon­nochie says the Asia New Zealand Foun­da­tion is pleased to be giv­ing Kiwi busi­ness lead­ers the chance to bet­ter un­der­stand con­sumer be­hav­iour in South­east Asia.

“New Zealand has a long his­tory of sell­ing food prod­ucts to South­east Asia, but less ex­pe­ri­ence with con­sumer branded prod­ucts,” he says. “What bet­ter way for ex­porters to achieve suc­cess than by en­gag­ing with peo­ple who have a lo­cal per­spec­tive on what con­sumers re­spond to.”

One of the Food Sum­mit par­tic­i­pants, Talita Setyadi, lives in the In­done­sia cap­i­tal of Jakarta these days, but she was ed­u­cated in Auck­land. Trained in Paris at the famed Le Cor­don Bleu and run­ning her own bak­ery called Beau us­ing high-qual­ity ar­ti­san in­gre­di­ents, she says she saw a huge op­por­tu­nity in In­done­sia be­cause the qual­ity of prod­ucts is of­ten not the same as the Land of the Long White Cloud.

“The econ­omy is emerg­ing,” she ex­plains. “They’re start­ing to take on a whole lot of the Western trends. We have this whole gen­er­a­tion of kids com­ing back home. Be­cause I’ve grown up in New Zealand, I’ve kind of taken it for granted.”

Another par­tic­i­pant, Hang Do, is vice pres­i­dent of a re­tail hold­ing busi­ness in Viet­nam called Seed­com, a con­glom­er­ate which in­cludes a cof­fee chain, a farm, a pizza chain and more. While she sources many of the in­gre­di­ents her busi­nesses use from Viet­nam, she says the per­cep­tion of New

Zealand prod­ucts of be­ing of a high qual­ity and “safe” makes Aotearoa an at­trac­tive place to source prod­ucts from. She says she’s wor­ried, how­ever, that Kiwi busi­nesses aren’t do­ing enough to get the word out about what it is they’re do­ing. “There’s lots of po­ten­tial for New Zealand busi­nesses in Viet­nam.”

Do’s views are sim­i­lar to those of Sin­ga­pore’s Alan Goh, head of global sales lead of Od­dle, an on­line or­der­ing sys­tem for restau­rants that aims to pro­vide a holis­tic end-to-end so­lu­tion for mer­chants with a pres­ence in Sin­ga­pore, Malaysia, In­done­sia, Hong Kong and Tai­wan. “There’s a need to utilise ad­van­tages, such as high-value prod­ucts,” he says. “Em­brac­ing change is the key.”

Goh says New Zealand has a se­ri­ous need to mar­ket it­self – some­thing which his home na­tion of Sin­ga­pore has a fair bit of ex­pe­ri­ence in. “We’re a small coun­try, but you can see us as an en­ter­prise as well.”

He says Aotearoa could learn a fair bit about how Sin­ga­pore – a na­tion with a lit­tle more than five mil­lion peo­ple – has been able to carve a niche for it­self among its far larger neigh­bours thanks to its fo­cus on tech and value-added prod­ucts. “We can’t com­pete on price,” he says. “It has to be on qual­ity.”

ASEAN is a group­ing of 10 South­east Asian na­tions with a com­bined pop­u­la­tion of more than 620 mil­lion. New Zealand has a free trade agree­ment in place with ASEAN through the ASEAN-Aus­tralia-New Zealand FTA (AANZFTA).

Since 2012, the ASEAN Young Busi­ness Lead­ers Ini­tia­tive has brought more than 60 dy­namic en­trepreneurs and busi­ness lead­ers from South­east Asia to New Zealand, build­ing busi­ness con­nec­tions and fa­cil­i­tat­ing trade links. The ini­tia­tive has also en­abled New Zealand en­trepreneurs to par­tic­i­pate in sec­tor-spe­cific pro­grammes in South­east Asia, in­clud­ing a food and bev­er­age tour to In­done­sia, an agri­cul­tural visit to the Philip­pines and a tech visit to Thai­land.

While New Zealand may not be able to com­pete with larger economies such as Aus­tralia or the United States in terms of vol­ume, Setyadi says Kiwi busi­nesses can help carve a niche for them­selves in Asia if they fo­cus on sell­ing value-added prod­ucts – and work to ed­u­cate con­sumers about the ad­van­tages of value-added prod­ucts. “If you think about it, New Zealand is much closer to Asia than Eu­rope,” she says. “In Asia, we haven’t been ed­u­cated as much with New Zealand prod­ucts.” The Asia New Zealand Foun­da­tion’s Adam McCon­nochie says there are plenty of op­por­tu­ni­ties for New Zealand busi­ness lead­ers to learn about South­east Asian mar­kets through the pro­gramme, and build valu­able net­works into the re­gion. The Foun­da­tion’s lat­est off­shore pro­gramme is an F&B tour to Malaysia, and plans are un­der­way for a fash­ion and de­sign visit to Thai­land later in the year.

Luong Ngoc Duc, right, from Viet­nam, with Jac­qui Wales, founder of Lib­er­tine Blends.

Ade Per­mata Surya from “Hearty Foodie” in In­done­sia, right, and Luong Ngoc Duc, from Viet­nam.

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