When opportunity knocks . . .
A UK Essex-based drink supplier that was founded over a century ago has secured a deal to sell its organic fruit juices to Japanese businesses through to April 2021. This latest Japanese deal was secured after the Department for International Trade (DIT) assisted the company to attend trade shows and meetings in Japan, where it met new customers.
In 2016, Gerald McDonald opened an office in Kobe and DIT is currently providing advice on trademark registration in the country. Marketing Director at Gerald McDonald, Maxim McDonald said “We are proud to be a British family business and to keep the legacy of my great-grandfather going. Japan has been our biggest exporting step; it is an exciting market and our future focus. It is going to be big for our business and we are in the process of developing our website for future online sales in Japan.”
UK Secretary of State for International Trade Liz Truss commented: “The trade deal we signed with Japan was a historic moment and will offer tariff-free trade on 99% of UK exports to Japan, creating new opportunities for people in the East of England and helping level up the whole country.
Gerald McDonald was originally founded by spice trader Gerald McDonald in 1917, its main customers were in the UK, back when spices were still very exotic products for the British consumer. Following the Second World War, the company was granted a government licence for the importation of bulk fruit juices, as there was a huge government drive to get children consuming more minerals and vitamins which they were lacking. This is how we started in juices and concentrates.
A major milestone came in 2000, comments Maxim, moving from London to Basildon, in order to set up their own warehouse and blending facilities. “We realised we could not stay competitive as just a trading company in the City.”
Roll on to today and the self-named business is now managed by his grandson Gerald and great-grandson Maxim. From its headquarters in Basildon, UK, the juices are exported to over 20 countries, with international sales accounting for 20% of Gerald McDonald’s £27 million average turnover. Gerald McDonald also exports its popular Japanese Yuzu juice outside of Japan and creates bespoke juice mixes at its headquartered blending facility.
So how did the Japanese contract come about, we asked Maxim McDonald?
“The DIT supported us in Japan with travel and tradeshow funding. In Japan it is crucial to be present and active in the market in order to gain respect, so this was a huge help for us.
Japan has always been a fascinating country to me, so different yet so similar in certain ways. For food and drink it’s one of the most exciting countries in the world with a strong national cuisine but also with a great appreciation of other food cultures. Japanese consumers are incredibly adventurous which leads to a very exciting drink market…where else would you find a pancake flavour drink?!”
What have been the biggest challenges of late?
“No doubt Covid-19 has been problematic due to the uncertainty, but also Brexit in terms of stockpiling. We hope for a deal with the EU, but now we have measures in place to ensure that exports/imports will continue running smoothly whatever the outcome.
“Despite the pandemic, the organic market is growing again, and we have strong connections to organic citrus growers which places us in a good position to offer ingredients to food and drink manufacturers.
“We have a large portfolio of fruit concentrates, NFCs, purees and essential oils that we hold in stock. We have no MOQs and so are very flexible with volumes. At our onsite blending facility we make compounds, aseptic products and repack into small or large units.
“Covid has affected everyone in food and drink as customers eating and drinking habits have markedly changed and we have to try and adapt to this. We obviously have to keep production going while also maintaining a safe environment for our workers, but staff who can, do work from home. Fortunately, all our processes have been coping and working fine.”
“I believe the more free trade agreements countries can have, the better, easier and more competitive business will be, which in the end should benefit customers. We want to excel at customer service and be as flexible as possible – our customers have enough to worry about selling their own products.”
What product developments are you most proud of?
“Not all NPD leads to success as its very trial and error, but we have created some very interesting and great tasting blends for customers, and it is always very satisfying after spending a long time with a client creating and working on a new drink to see it come to fruition. “
Tell us about Yuzu juice and what makes it special
“It is a Japanese citrus with a very interesting and complex taste- like a cross between a lemon, mandarin and grapefruit. The juice we offer retains 100% of the essential oil which gives it a really powerful depth. It’s a very important product for the company as we look at new markets.”
So what next for the company?
“We are looking for partners and agents we can work with in other regions such as the Middle East, Africa and Asia where we know we have something to offer. If you’re interested in working with us, do get in touch.”