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During a trip to South Africa, Victoria Neale fell in love with a spicy sauce made from the tiny, red African Bird’s Eye Chili, commonly known as the Peri Peri chili. Her favorite version of the recipe was made by a brand called Veri Peri. Unfortunately, after returning home, Neale learned that Veri Peri was not available in the United States. Rather than yearn for the hot sauce in vain, she thought, “Why not try and import it to the U.S.?”
In 2010, after losing her job in the banking sector, Neale decided to take action. She contacted All Joy Foods Ltd., the South African manufacturer of Veri Peri, to ask for permission to import its foreign product. To her surprise, the company said, “Yes.”
Today, Neale is the sole proprietor of Victorious Solutions, an import business based in Monroe, New York, where she sells five flavors of Veri Peri. She distributes her imported product in gourmet supermarkets in the New York City area, ShopRite and on Amazon.com. The product is also distributed by UNFI East, and she hopes to continue growing her market.
Here are a few lessons that Neale has learned about importing from a foreign market.
Neale: When we [Neale and her boyfriend, who is a South African expat] discovered the Veri Peri brand, we just loved the product. People were sending it to us when we were home because we couldn’t get it anywhere else. And all our friends and family loved it — it was a natural fit. Gourmet food wasn’t really our forte and importing was a new endeavor, so we just sort of went out on a wing and a prayer and hoped for the best.
Neale: I don’t have any employees. My company is me, basically. I have my broker and my distributor. I have a home office. Hopefully, I can hire someone else next year. I’m not [a name-brand condiment]. I don’t have the budget to do what they do, so I try to make things work. Instead of doing a huge ad campaign in Gourmet News, I have a big blog network, where I have a lot of mom bloggers who I send samples to and they write reviews. It’s sort of like guerilla-style marketing.
Neale: If you’re doing this for the first time, don’t try to do the shipping by yourself. We did that — we entertained the idea of working out the logistics. Unless you have somebody that you can really trust on either side, there are so many moving pieces, and it can be very, very complicated.
For example, a logistics company manages trucks that pick up the goods from the manufacturer, ocean freight companies and their staff, customs officers, etc. It can be really difficult to manage all of those individual legs of the shipment — especially when there are two, maybe more, countries involved.
Neale: My strategy is to start in my particular area and get a good foothold here, locally, in the Hudson Valley, so that I can establish some real sales, and then go from there and show what our performance has been and sort of expand from there.
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