International Trade

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Tyrrells CEO shares his tips for going overseas

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When I ask David Milner why Tyrrells is expanding into the Australian market, he doesn’t initially mention anything about crisps. 

“What we look for is a trade [e.g retail industry] that is sophisticated enough to allow you to access consumers,” he says. “Australia is a mature, sophisticated market with very well run retailers, and a straightforward and efficient route to market, so it’s a very easy market to operate in.

“The reason I’m not talking about people that like crisps is because crisps are a very ubiquitous product – I challenge you to go anywhere in the world that they don’t like crisps.” 

This universal enjoyment of crisps probably helps explain the rapid growth in international sales which the company has enjoyed- exports now account for 25 per cent of turnover for Tyrrells, and the crisps are available in more than 30 countries, including the US, Brazil and India. 

Founded in 2003 by Herefordshire potato farmer Will Chase, the brand has enjoyed a rapid rise in the UK market as part of a growing appetite for more sophisticated crisps. Chase sold a majority stake in the business to private equity firm Langholm Capital in 2008. It was since acquired by Bahrain-based investors Investcorp, but operations continue to be based in the UK. 

Turnover has doubled in the past three years and the company now employs 270 people. 

I’m curious to find out how, given its major international presence, the company avoids becoming spread too thin. 

“The way we try to avoid that,” says Milner, “ is to constantly remind ourselves that we’ve got focused markets. For us they are France, Germany, the US and Holland. We sell to 30 markets, but try to spend 85 per cent of time on those four.”

Milner says that he treats these countries as full-on brand building exercises, where the company will invest in PR, localised websites and such, whereas in other countries marketing will be left mainly to the distributors. 

“Being English is quite cool at the moment so we’re really, really lucky”

He says he doesn’t believe in advertising anymore, and so Tyrrells has never advertised in the conventional sense, focussing instead on PR and what Milner calls “packvertising” – the eccentrically English packaging designs which the company has become known for. 

Milner says that being an English brand is a massive asset in the overseas markets they operate in. 

“Being English is quite cool at the moment so we’re really really lucky,” he says. “The Olympics, the Royal Family, people think English stuff is high quality, whether you’re Burberry, Land Rover, any number of British brands around the world. 

“You’ve got such an advantage because whole world thinks it’s good quality and they genuinely quite like our stuff – even in France where they pretend they don’t like it!” 

Distributors play a massive role in the overseas activities of Tyrrells as they don’t use their own teams of in-country staff, instead selling to local companies who can take the crisps to market. 

Milner says that when you’re starting out in a new market it can be difficult to get in with the most established distributors as they will only want to touch established brands. Instead it’s better to go for smaller, entrepreneurial distributors who can help you get a foot in the door.

“The first distributor you pick is somebody who can get you in, they have to be an entrepreneurial, usually premium-based distributor. The once you’ve been doing it for a few years you want to get bigger, you have to find somebody who is good at dealing with supermarkets – they’re frequently not the same person. So in most markets we’re on our second distributor by now.” 

Rather than focussing on a lot of new markets, Milner says the future focus of Tyrrells will be on consolidating the position they are already in. 

“I don’t think there are many other markets I need to go to,” he says. “What I need to do is make myself bigger in the markets that I’m already in. 

“So now it’s about consolidating in the key markets, getting all the products listed, and building a relationship between the brand and consumers.”

Related: Tyrrells: How to break the US market

Related: How to make the most of an international distributor

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