At a time when pressure on land, water and resources is greater than at any time in human history, Germains exists to help its customers maximise the productivity and cost-effectiveness of their crops. The company has more than 140 years’ experience in seed technologies for sugar beet, vegetables and flowers.
Germains Seed Technology was formed in 1871 in California. The company specialises in treating sugar beet and horticultural seed to maximise the yield, productivity and cost-effectiveness of the crop.
The technology used by Germains Seeds is innovative and cutting edge. By changing the physical shape, appearance and physiology of seeds by applying heat, light, coatings and some chemicals; the seed is easier to plant, protected against disease and insects, more drought-tolerant and more productive.
Although Germains has its Head Office, main Research and Development facility and two factories in King’s Lynn, it is a truly international organisation with the same facilities in California, Holland and Spain. It exports to North America and Western Europe, and is growing its representation in China, Mexico, Western Europe, Central and Eastern Europe.
Managing Director Paul Mullan says: “In the past five years our exports have grown threefold, and the overall business has grown by 60%. This is due to the fact that we lead the field in certain technologies and we have the knowledge that the rest of the world needs. We are offering a sustainable solution to the increasing global shortages of food, land and water, and that means our business will grow in value and volume.”
Six years ago, Germains identified China as an important market for growth, and it has invested a great deal of time and resource to ensure success in the region. “China was a tough market,” says Paul. “We are used to very well-organised farmers in Europe, but in China things are very different. We had to start from scratch and it was a steep learning curve.
“We installed an office there, employed staff on the ground and started crop trials, and over time it has begun to pay off. It is now running so successfully that we don’t need a physical presence there anymore. We can also re-use that resource in the other countries where we are hoping to repeat the same business model, such as Ukraine and Russia.”
So what does it take to break into these new markets? “In my experience, there are four things we need to do before we can start thinking about exporting to a new country,” explains Paul. “Firstly we consult the UKTI; they are an invaluable resource and network. Then, I would say, don’t be afraid to talk to people who know the region you are targeting. After that it is essential to employ a consultancy to research opportunities in the region. Lastly, go there yourself, meet the people and validate your market intelligence and strategy first hand.”
Ongoing support is also key, and being a member of the Norfolk Chamber of Commerce gives Paul access to invaluable assistance. “We use the Norfolk Chamber team to do all our documentation and they are vital to our success. They are very professional, knowledgeable, friendly and fast. We have a lot of new people coming on board who need to learn the export market quickly, so the Chamber’s export courses have been great for bringing people up-to-speed.
“I also attend the Chamber’s networking events and business breakfasts, which I find very enjoyable and useful for making local and wider contacts.”
Paul has found that the biggest challenge in exporting is relationship building. “It is vital to understand how individuals work – every culture and person is different. It takes time to earn trust, so you must put in the time and resource to get it right. This can be a distraction to the rest of the organisation, so ensure you don’t spread existing resource too thinly.
“Seed is a precious commodity. It is a delicate living organism, so transportation needs to be safe and fast. Product is mostly shipped back to customers by courier, sea or air freight because of its high value,” explains Paul.
Paul has some clear advice for companies considering exporting for the first time: “Make sure you have local representation in the region you want to target - someone who understands the culture, the legal side, the financials, logistics and human resources. Without these in place it will be very hard to gain trust and make headway.”