In June, the 2015 Export Awards recognized New Brunswick companies achieving recent or ongoing success in developing new markets and expanding their reach. Opportunities NB (ONB) wanted to check in with of some of those award-winning companies, and get to the bottom of their export success.

Dieppe’s Bonté Foods Limited is a manufacturer of over 300 food products. Producing food under the Bonté Foods, Chris Brothers, and Natures Deli brand names, they’re currently the largest deli meat manufacturer in all of Atlantic Canada.

Bonté’s meat division sales soared 33 percent over the previous year in both domestic and export sales. They have also added over two dozen new products to their export offerings. New products and innovation have opened new non-traditional markets, and that has provided opportunity, jobs, and great success. The company received this year’s Exporter of the Year Award on the strength of those numbers.

ONB had occasion to speak with Michael Whittaker, President at TruCorp Investments Incorporated and President of Bonté Foods Limited, about the company’s export success.

ONB: What was/were the biggest obstacle(s) faced by Bonté in achieving export success? And how were those challenges overcome?

Whittaker: The biggest hurdle we came up against was establishing relationships with the buyers of the different retail chains across Canada. Shelf space at grocers was (and is) extremely coveted, and we have to beg to get a listing. As our brands grew and the interest in Atlantic Canada-made products became more intense, we gradually began acquiring more and more listings.

There is a certain critical mass that occurs when the consumer begins noticing your brand, and that begins the trust they have by buying your products. Once they buy three or four different products under your brand it’s easy for them to accept other lines.

It’s a brand trust issue.

ONB: Are there any attributes of New Brunswick—either geographic or cultural—that played key roles in helping your company with market expansion?

Whittaker: There’s no question being in a bilingual market has been a huge advantage. It always amazes me how some just really do not understand the importance of French in Atlantic Canada. New Brunswick is also that much closer to the rest of Canada. It gives us a bit of an advantage in freight costs compared to operating in Nova Scotia or Newfoundland. And Moncton has an amazing workforce; we never have employee turnover issues.

ONB: In achieving the company’s export goals, were there any surprises you came across?

Whittaker: Yes, the flavour preferences of Atlantic vs non-Atlantic. Dry cured pepperoni vs cooked, Chris Brothers snack pepperoni just doesn’t have the same appeal outside Atlantic. Donairs, for instance, are hugely popular in Atlantic and the West, but not as much in Ontario and Quebec. It means to compete outside the Atlantic Canada region we need to sometimes adjust our product offerings to the tastes of different regions. Naturally, that’s quite problematic.

ONB: What’s the best advice for other businesses in this region looking to begin their journey towards exporting?

Whittaker: Own your backyard. You have to be strong and healthy in your local market before you export, at least in our industry. Be patient; don’t expect great things to happen overnight because they rarely do.

ONB: What’s next for Bonté Foods?

Whittaker: We are looking hard at sweet pickled meats. Those are meats soaked in brine like brisket, riblets etc. They are a very niche product line but very popular across Canada, and in the Caribbean and other countries.

We are also taking our brand and looking at what types of products are complimentary. For instance we have just launched a beautiful line of gourmet Dijon mustards. We don’t make them here. Another company makes them for us. But when your brand has equity you don’t always have to produce the product yourself. That’s a nice profit model.

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