Food show participation ‘eye opener’ for Fiji exporter

For Flour Mills of Fiji (FMF) Export Manager Rakesh Raju, participating in the Auckland Food Show in August was an “eye opener”. Though FMF, one of the region’s largest food manufacturing companies has been exporting its range of products to New Zealand for several years, it rarely if ever met with its end customer, having dealt only with the import and distribution company.

Rakesh Raju FMF Export Manager in his office in Suva.

Rakesh Raju FMF Export Manager in his office in Suva.

“Being at the Auckland Food Show and interacting with the actual Kiwi buyer was a tremendous learning experience,” Mr Raju told Pacific Periscope in Suva recently. “Our interactions have so far been restricted to our importer and distributor; we had never really talked to our end customers in New Zealand and gauged their first-hand reactions to our product range and to FMF as a manufacturer. It was direct. No filter.”

Mr Raju manned the FMF booth at the Pacific Islands stand that Pacific Trade & Invest (PT&I) NZ facilitated featuring eight Pacific Island food and beverage companies. He said some of the learnings from attending the show surprised him and his team back in Fiji.

The company took the opportunity to sample product that hadn’t been exported in any appreciable volumes before. “For example, we never expected dalo chips to be such a hit with Kiwis,” Mr Raju said. He had never thought that dalo as a product would be popular outside Pacific Island markets. And it was not just popular among Pacific Island visitors living in New Zealand that visited the show. Pakeha Kiwis too were interested, he found.

He puts it down to the fact that not only are there large numbers of people of Pacific Island origin living in New Zealand but also increasing numbers of Kiwis take holidays in the islands and exposed to island foods. “It was also great to know that so many children were interested in the dalo chips,” Mr Raju said. FMF is now looking at stepping up exports of packaged dalo chips in its range of packaged snack foods to New Zealand along with other products that it found had greater potential.

“We always knew macadamia nuts were popular in New Zealand. But what a lot of Kiwis did not know is that we make biscuits with them in Fiji. That knowledge came as a surprise for both us and them,” Mr Raju said. FMF’s macadamia biscuit range was a huge success at the show. “People were appreciative of the Fiji story behind it.”

FMF's Rakesh Raju at the Auckland Food Show. FMF was one of eight Pacific food and beverage companies whose participation PT&I facilitated at the show.

FMF’s Rakesh Raju at the Auckland Food Show. FMF was one of eight Pacific food and beverage companies whose participation PT&I facilitated at the show.

Mr Raju thinks Fiji is well regarded in New Zealand and the ‘Fiji Made’ tag that is being popularised by the Fiji Government needs to be better leveraged. Mr Raju hopes that the experience gained by participating in the Auckland Food Show will eventually lead to a new product mix for exports to New Zealand in addition to the its range already popular in the country.

FMF’s biscuit products have long been available in the New Zealand market. FMF Breakfast Crackers, Cookies, Tymo chocolate enrobed biscuits, Chow Noodles are all on major supermarket and convenience store shelves around New Zealand. FMF is a significant exporter around the region with regular shipments destined for Vanuatu, Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea besides New Zealand and Australia.

The company is at an advanced stage of building a new state of the art factory in Fiji dedicated to exporting its growing range of packaged food products. “We do have niche markets in faraway countries like the United Kingdom. We need to leverage our presence in such markets in a better way. Increased capacity will help us achieve that,” Mr Raju said.

Participating in shows like the Auckland Food Show also help the company better understand “new and different dimensions” of markets in the developed country markets. “Business in the islands is done face-to-face and is based largely on relationships. It’s different in the developed markets,” he said. However, the islands’ relationships based model has inherent strengths that need to be ‘tweaked’ to suit the markets of the western world, according to Mr Raju.

For more information, please email PT&I Trade Development Manager Ian Furlong

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