Hugh Pile - Blue Skies

"Market expansion is important, given the turbulent times"

Global fresh-cut fruit and juice company, Blue Skies, has been in the business for quite a while and are always looking at ways to stay ahead of the game.

The company has identified four pillars of its growth strategy: maintaining United Kingdom performance, expanding into new markets, exploring new categories and expanding the brand.

Hugh Pile, Marketing Manager at the company, adds that market expansion is important, given the turbulent times with the uncertainty that Brexit will bring for both the United Kingdom and Europe. Blue Skies has factories in Ghana, Egypt, Brazil, South Africa, as well as the UK. He adds that the business model allows more flexibility in 'choppy waters', to deal with the strongest performing currency and hedge finances and manage fluctuations - and source raw materials.

"I do think we are well set for these continuingly turbulent times," he said. "Certainly a lot of people remain very nervous about what will come out of Brexit discussions. Aside from just exchange rate issues, there are some material concerns, on labour, both quality and quantity, and value. But also on the shifting tides of fresh produce and where it is coming from, and what yields might look like. So we are checking the news every day."

Hugh says the company's operations in Brazil, have opened up new opportunities in North America, as it overcomes previous logistical problems in delivering the produce fresh to customers.

"Over the years we have tried to crack the U.S market, but we have never really found a route that works," Hugh said. "The core of business model is around great logistics, because we speed the fruit from the harvest as fresh as possible to the end result. If that gets compromised, or there are days lost, or the cold chain gets broken - we invariably walk away. Now we believe that with our Brazil operations we could supply across the states. We are in one advanced conversation with one customer in the New York area, and we are meeting a few further customers on the West Coast later this month."

While expansion into Asia, particularly China, remains attractive, Hugh says it also poses some challenges.

"It is mostly around the logistics and finding a strong partner to support us in that expansion," he said. "We have had some conversations with one or two customers this year, but again it's about getting the commitment from that customer to take orders that are big enough and getting the traction that we want for a launch. Also, because there are very interesting and exotic fruits out in Asia already, I think bringing additional pineapple or papayas over from Ghana would not be not easy."

Blue Skies is also "looking very seriously" into the Indian market, with easier access due to the company's operations in Egypt, not only in terms of export, but tapping into the quality produce already grown in the country.

At the same time, Hugh believes there is also opportunities in local expansion in markets such as Africa, meaning they are less exposed to currency fluctuations. The Blue Skies brand is well known in Ghana, but not so much in other parts of the continent.

"As part of the ‘expanding the brand’ pillar, we are looking at building powerhouse brands in local markets," said Hugh. "Ghana has had a consumer facing brands for most of its life, where as Brazil, South Africa and Egypt have not. So I am pleased to say that in all three of those markets in the next month or so we will be launching the consumer facing brand to build up local branded sales."

The company is also expanding its product categories, with the recent launch of its dairy-free ice-cream in selected Waitrose stores. The milk part comes from coconut milk, and fruit such as passion fruit and mangoes.

"It's still an unknown brand so it will take some time," Mr Pile said. "We are happy with the start. It is exceptionally early days, and it is reliant on people's experimentation, as we start to get some marketing out to get the brand known. Certainly, taste tests have proven really successful; just last week the BBC Good Food rated us the best tasting coconut milk ice cream. So we just want people to try it and experience it, and the taste will do the work for us over time."

For more information:
Hugh Pile 
Blue Skies
Tel: +44(0)1604 881230

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