Natural Products Expo West

Three tips for selling internationally-inspired, authentic products to Americans from industry veteran

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Americans may be becoming more adventurous in what they eat – seeking international flavors and products – but some retailers and buyers are hesitant to stock these types of new products for fear that they won’t sell once they are on store shelves. 

One way manufacturers of internationally-inspired products can overcome this hurdle is to create and host in-depth educational training sessions for retail buyers to educate them not only about the specific products, but about how they fit into both their original and America’s evolving cultures, says Suji Park, the CEO of Suji’s Korean Cuisine, which markets ready-to-eat, authentic Korean-inspired dishes.

“We have this program called Korean 101 where we bring our Korean chef and an American chef to talk about what is really Korean food,” including the health benefits and on-trend attributes of the individual ingredients, such as probiotic-packed kimchee and boldly flavored fermented sauces, Park said.

She adds that as the company prepares tastings for about 20 different Korean dishes that it can mass produce in the US with all natural ingredients, her company also details all the resources it can dedicate to helping educate consumers to ensure the products will sell once they are on store shelves.

“We position ourselves as partners rather than just as a vendor with one product,” she said. “So, we end up developing a lot of different products for different retailers.”

This strategy helped Suji’s land in many large retailers and be so successful that it is now able to expand its product portfolio to include Japanese, Vietnamese and South East Asian products with the same philosophy as the original Korean line.

Give and take

Getting on shelf is, of course, only part of the battle. Entrepreneurs launching globally-inspired foods and beverages also need to be prepared to adjust authentic recipes to please American’s current palates in order to get in shoppers’ baskets in the first place, Park said.

“I know there are a lot of moms’ authentic recipes, but just because the market is ready for authenticity, that doesn’t mean any authentic food will work in the market,” she said.

Rather, entrepreneurs need to “really understand your cuisine, plus American flavors and palates and American markets as well,” she said.

For example, she explained that when she began bringing Korean dishes to the US she needed to adjust the sweetness level and use meat that was less fatty. Likewise, when she sells Western brunch items in Korea she tones down the sugar level to appeal to consumers there.

Be patient

Finally, Park advises newcomers marketing new cuisines to be patient with the process.

“It takes a long time,” she said. Speaking from experience as an 11-year veteran selling international dishes, she added that not only will entrepreneurs need to tweak products to appeal to new markets, but they also might have challenges sourcing suitable ingredients and finding co-packers or suppliers that are knowledgeable and can prep products appropriately -- all of which takes immense patience. 

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