Speciality food brand strategy

How Strong Brand Strategy Helps Specialty Food Get International Distribution

Getting international distribution as a small, speciality food brand can seem like a daunting task – but it can be made a lot easier with the right approach to brand strategy. Selling into export and international markets exponentially increases your total possible market size. It also typically enables you to achieve premium pricing if you have a strong brand strategy driving your offering. However, simply having a high quality, delicious food product isn’t enough. As part of your sales and marketing drive to get international distribution, you also need to have a suitable brand strategy.

A strong brand strategy developed for international distribution, specifically for your end user or customer, enables you to get listings. It can also attract consumers to try and buy. 

Without a strong brand strategy, even the most delicious food tends to be commoditized or price driven. That commoditization disadvantage matters more in international markets than it does at home. With the additional logistics costs, your pricing competitiveness is often weaker than in your home market. That is one way in which a robust brand strategy helps. A brand strategy enables your speciality food brand to build a premium pricing strategy that’s compelling in customer terms.

Related: Brand Building, 15 Short Term Ways to Build Your Brand for the Long Term

Below we’re sharing insights on the role of specialty food brand strategy in helping your speciality foods get listings in international retail and attract customers.

1. How Specialty Food Brand Strategy Helps Get International Distribution

You may wonder if your lovingly crafted food product is tasty enough, why does it need a brand strategy rather than let the product quality speak for itself to store buyers?

Some products, albeit few, are distinctive because to the source or location of ingredients, geographically specific production techniques, provenance or a special association between a particular food and a unique place. 

branding strategy

© Persona Design

The reality is, though, that many food items are relatively generic from the perspective of a trade buyer. Although there may be quality differences, the food often has to compete against locally produced products of the same or similar type.

Brand strategy enables you to bring distinctiveness to your product line-up, which helps you differentiate it from competitors. This in turn enables it to stand out from other similar competing products in the marketplace. 

Related: Profitable Lessons from Luxury Brand Leaders, Brand Positioning for Premium Pricing

Those brand differentiation factors are attractive to distributors because it enables them to differentiate their own offering to their customers. That is especially important if they are the sole supplier of your brand in their market. 

That is why even very basic food products like salt, flour and biscuits can be exported and sold at premium prices if the brand strategy is strongly developed and effectively executed.

Speciality food brand strategy

Image via © Oriel

A case study is Oriel Sea Salt. This Irish Sea salt producer started life in 2010 and soon became an export hit. While many countries produce sea salt, the Irish brand is able to play on the iconic image of the Irish Sea as a very natural and mineral rich source which underpins the reasons to believe it for its intensity and clean flavour profile. Instead of spending heavily to build its own brand – which can be costly for a small specialty food producer – it relies more on its connection to the Irish Sea.

We know that sometimes it’s a struggle to build a brand strategy that really engages your ideal customers effectively, particularly in adversity, so we’ve developed three different ways of working with us to help you build your brand, depending on your preferences, so if you’d like us to:

  1. Build your brand for you – find out more here or get in touch [email protected] or ring +353 1 8322724
  2. Empower you to build your brand – check out the Persona Brand Building Blueprint™ Mastermind here. This is a live, interactive programme online  where you work on your brand with us codifying and mapping out your brand strategy for business growth. Alternatively, join our online half-day Branding Accelerator Masterclass for a fast-injection of brand building essentials. Ask about our Personal and Corporate Leadership Brand Alignment Masterclass
  3. Want a DIY solution? Check out our how to build a brand eprogramme here and our how to audit your brand yourself eprogramme here

brand strategy“We participated in the Persona 7-Figure Business Building & Brand Strategy Mastermind 12 week online course. The 12 week program suited us as the weekly accountability spurred us on to get work done between sessions.

We found the flow of the course appropriate for the development of the brand through the various areas of the business. Already, we have developed our Customers Persona’s and our Brand Persona adding value to the business.

The course has helped us make more astute decisions in the business such as restructuring our product offerings so we grow more profitable lines and remove those with lower margins.

Lorraine is very helpful and accessible as a tutor with follow up after each working session and the half day masterclass. Most of all the clarity achieved has been most invaluable.

In the first two weeks of March 2020, before Covid-19 required us to close, we were 300% up in our online sales compared to the whole of March 2019 and after reopening April 2020 we were back to 108% by the end of May 2020 — results achieved from applying our brand strategy.”

Sinead Heffernan

Managing Director

Thunders Bakery

Sinead Heffernan

2. Specialty Food Brand Strategy Sets You Apart with Buyers in a Crowded Marketplace

Often there will be other specialty food brands competing for buyers’ attention. You will not be the only Irish seafood producer, French champagne maker or Indian spice mix producer seeking a way into the American market, for example.

While you can compete with product attributes and pricing, in itself that is a hard game to win long-term. Someone else can often produce cheaper, especially a mass producer which can spread costs more widely than a speciality food producer can. 

Product attributes often do not drive strong preference for a particular food producer when multiple competing products are roughly equivalent from an end user’s perspective. However, branding strategy can be designed to be unique and to match the needs or desires of a carefully selected target market. That then sets your specialty food brand apart so you can command premium pricing, grow market share and, most importantly, build IP brand asset value.

Branding strategy is especially effective for specialty food because it is usually possible to craft a compelling, engaging brand story about food products, from provenance to production. 

Related: Increase Sales Using Buyer Personas: Your Guide to Understanding and Targeting Your Ideal Customers

For consumers in international markets who seek a sliver of exoticism in their daily lives, food is one of the few ways to access that elusive international escapism factor relatively easily at an ‘affordable’ price point because food is so visceral.  

Specialty food brand strategy

Image via © Border Biscuits

As a case study you can consider in this context is Borders Biscuits. This small Scottish biscuit manufacturer has built widespread international distribution across dozens of diverse countries. Borders has crafted a brand which emphasises a sense of provenance in its brand strategy, backed up by its traditional Scottish product range and recipes. 

Speciality food brand strategy

© Border Biscuits

Related: How Branding Strategy is Different to Marketing

Are you a business leader, decision maker, manager or entrepreneur who wants to re-evaluate or build your brand strategy so you can get the right brand strategy for your specialty food brand to get international distribution and increase your sales? 

Are you curious about how to build or scale a highly successful standout brand? Join one of our branding masterclasses because they empower you to build your brand, enhance customer experience, expand your market impact and create higher perceived value so you can command a premium.


In fact, the Persona Brand Building Blueprint™ Mastermind is all about fast-tracking you, your brand and your business through the brand building, agile branding strategy process using professional big-brand know-how with proven systems that get results so you can grow your business faster and more effectively.

The programme enables you to make your brand highly visible, different, credible, trustworthy, memorable and much loved amongst your ideal customers so you can become more profitable and leave your competitors way behind. Be The One — your ideal customers’ favourite brand of preferred choice commanding a premium.

If you want a tailor-made solution specifically for your brand then we also provide in house bespoke Persona Brand Building Blueprint™ Intensives working with you and your team so you can grow your business faster and more profitably. Contact us to discover more [email protected] or +353 1 8322724



Persona Unstoppable In Uncertainty Masterclass

brand strategy“For anyone who has a well established business I would totally recommend working with Persona Design because it will provide them with a new perspective on how to think of their brand. You see in different markets and industries that are overly competitive what makes the difference is knowing what exactly your business is all about and why people would choose you instead of any other competitor.

What makes you different from all the other service or product providers in the market because that’s what’s going to make your business be the No.1 choice in the range of those specific products or services that you’re providing. Also that’s what’s going to make your brand stand out and have a long lasting life and thrive in the context of where you’re operating and delivering value. So totally go for it!

This framework provides you with a lot of insight and more than that, with a systematic process that’s easy for you to understand, easy for you to grasp, easy for you to work with so you finally nail what makes you different in your business, and what you are about and what those key points are that resonate with your audience.”

Camelia Păduraru


Crafting Minds

Camelia Păduraru

3. High Volume Sales Come from Specialty Food Brand Strategy Not Just Specialty Food

It may be easy to understand that consumers want to buy Iranian caviar or Canadian maple syrup, for example, but you don’t need distinctive food provenance to do well in international markets. A well-developed brand strategy creates desire for the brand promise, not the product source itself. That is good news for specialty food brands – even if your product seems every day, your branding can elevate it above merely every day consumption

Sauces are a good example in the speciality food arena. Most sauces could be replicated cheaply by local manufacturers without shipping costs. However, simply selling an unbranded sauce is not a winning idea and certainly won’t enable you to command a premium, build IP brand asset value or grow highly profitable sales.

However, with a brand strategy which emphasizes its international provenance and uniqueness, even a sauce can successfully sell at scale in international markets. Indeed, because sauce and condiments are used sparingly, the value proposition they offer to consumers in international markets is even stronger than imported specialty foods which only offer one consumption opportunity. 

Speciality food brand strategy

Image via Pinterest © Ballymaloe

Irish sauce brand Ballymaloe Original Relish provides a relevant case study here. In and of itself, the sauce is a fairly straightforward condiment. But with a compelling brand story, tone of voice and visual brand identity, Ballymaloe is able to establish its unique selling point in export markets. Note to that, like many specialty food exporters, the brand provides examples of how to use its product, such as recipe ideas tailored to local tastes in target markets. This can help turn a speciality food brand in an export market from a one-off purchase driven by curiosity to a regular repeat purchase.

Related: Branding, Creativity without Strategic Rigour is a Waste of Budget 

4. Export Markets are Opened Up by the Right Specialty Food Brand Strategy

Specialty food exports are not as simple as “build it, and they will come”. In many cases, consumers in the target market and perhaps also distributors will not understand the usage occasions or attractiveness of a speciality food which is not commonly sold in their market.

That is a challenge which can be overcome by strong brand strategy. But it is also an opportunity – in educating the market how to use your brand, you will not be operating under the same constraints of established practice seen in your home market. So you can optimise your brand positioning, make it more upmarket or premium, widen the usage scenarios or drive larger portion sizing.

Specialty food brand strategy

Image via Pendleburys © Lea & Perrins, Heinz

An instructive case study is provided by Lea and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce. This is a versatile sauce which can be used as a cooking ingredient as well as a condiment, but that is not understood without education. So the brand, owned by Heinz, educates consumers about possible usage methods, recipe ideas and novel applications. 

Related: Boring Brand? How To Create a Unique Brand and Market Positioning

This is a simple brand strategy, but is effective in driving adoption and usage of specialty foods in international markets. That is important because, to sustain distribution, you need end consumers to repeatedly use and consume your brand, not simply to buy it once and then keep it in the pantry largely untouched.

Related: Why Do I Need A Brand? I’ve Got A Great Product and a Logo

“I really appreciate Lorraine’s energy and passion. Although good branding includes so many facets, Lorraine is able to simplify the process and make it so much more tangible for any company to put into practice.”

Lisa Kettman-Kervinen

Marketing Communication Specialist

The Switch

Lisa Kettman-Kervinen

5. Specialty Food Brand Strategy Enables Economies of Scale to Tackle the International Market

The costs to entry in the global markets can be high, which is often a deterrent for smaller specialty food producers. That is why it can make sense to achieve economies of scale by teaming up or collaborating with fellow producers.

Instead of focusing on the specific company brand, some international food branding strategy is successful by building up the national brand. For example, this national branding approach helps deliver sales for olive oil from Italy, chocolate from Belgium and dairy products from Ireland. 

By pooling resources to create this sort of area or national source branding – which can sit alongside company specific brand strategy – farmers’ cooperatives and other collaborating food producers are able to get the right sort of heft, so they can punch above their weight and succeed in achieving international distribution.

Specialty Food Brand Strategy

Image via © Taste of Arran

A case study is Taste of Arran, a Scottish SME who have a homely tone of voice emphasizing home-made style, and a sense of provenance. By building the brand story around a single place of origin, Arran – “Scotland in miniature” – the brand is able to set itself apart from other products without a similarly appealing brand story. 

Small islands are natural exporters because their home markets are too small to be viable, so from early on they need to ship product to the mainland, which even though it is not abroad does help imbue small island brands with the mindset of an exporter.

Related: Building a Brand with Big-Brand Know-How on a Shoestring and Doing More With Less

“An exceptionally talented individual. Lorraine Carter, Persona Branding and Design has a wonderful ability to ‘horizon scan’ for any business and then bring them on a journey that delivers value to their Balance Sheet.”

Dave Feenan


Technology Ireland & ICT Skillnet

Dave Feenan

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6. Specialty Food Brand Strategy Helps Overcome Communication Challenges in International Retail Environments

Brands usually come with less baggage in consumers’ perception in foreign markets than their home market, which can be good as a blank slate. But it can also expose challenges in educating a new market about the brand, to drive sales.

Competing messages, inconsistent national food quality standards, language difficulties and cultural norms about things such as brand packaging colour cues can pose substantial challenges when competing in international retail. It is no accident that many specialty food brands which succeed in getting international distribution actually come from high-cost countries: because of those costs, brands have already learnt to compete on the attractiveness of their brand proposition and differentiation, not merely price alone.

Related: Brand Hierarchy Fundamentals for Multiple Brands To Avoid Confused Customers or Stagnant Sales

A simple, consistent, crystal clear brand message helps to keep the brand attractive across multiple markets simultaneously, which is important for international distribution. 

A single multilingual pack distributed across markets markedly cuts complexity and costs versus market specific packaging, for example – but that is typically only possible where the brand strategy enables a high level of non-verbal communication. 

Building a strong speciality food brand that can achieve the high level of success requires underpinning it with a strong brand strategy that’s well documented and managed in a master brand profile. 

Once this essential underpinning brand strategy work is done then the outputs provide direction for all the brand collateral e.g. packaging, website, social channels, point of sale, marketing campaigns, sales brochures. 

The brand style guide and visual brand identity can then be fully documented to manage and protect your brand IP assets — and mitigate against the risk of unintentional internal sabotage. Both these processes and tools help you cut across communication challenges inherent in working in markets with different languages and cultural norms.

Related: What’s a Brand Guide and How Can it Help Your Business?

Specialty Food Brand Strategy

Image via © Nairns

A simple example is provided by Scottish oat foods producer Nairn’s. Their products are sold in the U.K. but also in many export markets. The packaging shows careful consideration of key elements that help make specialty food visual identities effective in such a context. 

First the brand logo itself is so simple it transcends language – yet its tartan imagery is a cue to the food’s Scottish origin. Secondly, the company consistently uses a well-considered single image on the pack front which shows both the product and a serving suggestion in appetising, large-scale photography which would stand out on shelf (and incidentally would work even if the pack is placed sideways due to a shelf constraint in overseas markets). 

A small but telling detail is the predominance of white on packside. Not only does this create a clean look, it also allows for local language stickers to be applied in the country of sale – often a legal requirement – without damaging the premium look of the packaging. These self-adhesive labels are often white and may not be carefully aligned, so a white background helps minimise their negative impact on the original packaging design.

Related: What’s in a Brand Name? Top 8 Successful Naming Principles Explained

“Lorraine’s depth of knowledge in branding is immense. I have attended some of her courses and also see first hand the benefits Persona Branding & Design can bring to a business. I am always happy to recommend Lorraine.”

Ruaidhri Prendergast

Co-Founder, Author

Pinpoint Local

Ruaidhri Prendergast

Final Word

Export markets offer an enticing opportunity for specialty foods – but to improve your likelihood of success, you need a good recipe for your brand strategy, not just your products. 

This does not need to be very complicated. Key points to consider include:

  1. What sets your product apart from your competitors?
  2. How will those differentiating factors appeal to international customers?
  3. What is the conceptual sell for trade buyers to justify giving you shelf space? 
  4. What can your brand offer to a retailer to help set it apart in its retail/consumer landscape?

A key step to getting the international distribution you want for your specialty food brand is brand strategy so the question is, how confident are you in yours?

What are you doing, or going to do to:

  1. Build stronger brand differentiation
  2. Grow your market share
  3. Expand your sales and
  4. Build IP brand asset value

so you can Be The One — your ideal customers’ favourite brand — highly profitable and commanding a premium with consistent growth even in market stress.

Questions to Consider

  1. What is truly distinctive or differentiating about your specialty food offering?
  2. What do other brands similar to yours which have international distribution talk about in their brand communication? Can you learn from it?
  3. Do you have a brand strategy which is built to emphasise what makes your product attractive to target customers?
  4. How does your branding strategy help the buyer at the distribution channel persuade their leadership team and other decision makers to make space for your products?
  5. What could you do to make your brand more compelling and easier to understand to international customers who don’t perhaps speak your native language or understand your cultural norms?
  6. Could you use a brand audit to help you make more informed decisions so you can mitigate the risks, leverage your strengths and harness new trends and opportunities — even in hostile trading conditions?

Your Persona Client Satisfaction Guarantee

  1. When you work with us we’ll create a customised brand-building plan and strategy with clear investment for you tailored to your specific requirements and preferences
  2. You’ll know each step of your brand building journey before we start because we’ll discuss it, document it, and agree on it with you before work commences
  3. You’ll have timelines, key milestones and deliverables to evaluate and approve for each stage and part of your brand building process
  4. Because we know the unexpected sometimes happens we can make adjustments along the way if you need it and if something extra is requested we’ll ensure you’re fully appraised about what that entails before committing
  5. As we achieve pre-agreed objectives you’ll be able to evaluate your brand building work and strategy in progress, coupled with the outcomes to ensure return on investment


Get in touch today because we’d love to enable you to re-evaluate and build your standout, powerhouse brand so you can Be The One — increase your profits and leave your competitors way behind.

Email us [email protected] or ring us +35318322724 (GMT 9:00-17:30) and ask about our VIP Brand Strategy Re-Evaluation.