If you could trust any product on your shopping list, you would like to think the food you buy and eat is reliable.
Trust is a funny thing when it comes to food, though. After all, everyone’s guilty of indulging in the odd bit of junk food every now and again, even when we know it doesn’t do us any good.
So what makes consumers trust the food they buy and eat? Well, this depends on which country you’re selling your food products and who you expect to buy.
The signals that earn trust vary all over the world and this is why localisation is so important for food products in overseas markets. So let’s take a look at how brands earn trust in foreign countries by localising their food products.
Before products, rethink your brand
When you venture into a new market, it’s a good idea to take another look at your brand in context. Even the name of your company needs to be scrutinised with each new language and culture.
Changing a brand name is no small thing, of course, but you don’t want to start launching products under a name that’s offensive in another language. To their cost, some household brand names have found this out the hard way.
As important as changing your brand name, localising your slogan is equally significant. It can be quite tricky if your slogan is heavy on metaphors or word play.
Sometimes a simple, word-for-word translation will not cut it. More often than not, companies need to localise slogans or even call on transcreation to capture the same message in different words.
The other big branding element that needs to be suitable for every market is your logo. The key here is to know how colours, symbols, shapes, acronyms and other visual elements will be interpreted by your new audience. Their meaning can change a lot as you cross borders or cultures and you don’t want to give the wrong message.
As humans we trust things that are familiar to us and often reject what feels alien – especially in the consumer realm. The food industry is a little unique in this sense and we’ll explain why in a moment. But from a pure branding point of view you want to feel like a native brand to each country you expand into. To do that you need to start with the basics of making sure your name, logo, slogan and other branding essentials project the right message.
Create localised products for each market
The McDonalds menu in Dubai is very different to ours here in the UK. While the most popular drink flavours in Brazil are a world away from the streets of London.
The point is you don’t want to go ahead and release the same food products into every market. You need to localise your flavours, ingredients and marketing concepts to suit local tastes.
It could be as simple as switching the sauce in your products, adding chilli or going for halal meat. Or maybe running a Tastes of Asia campaign instead of Tastes of Europe. Other times you simply have to go the distance and release dedicated products for individual markets.
One of our favourite examples is how KFC established itself as a Christmas tradition in Japan during the ’70s. So now you have heavy marketing campaigns and product launches during the holiday season by KFC Japan and its rivals.
On the basis that familiarity builds trust, it’s easy to see why tweaking recipes and releasing specialist products for each market is important.
The food industry is unique in this sense because international cuisine is exotic. The challenge you have is deciding what to change for the sake of familiarity and what to keep the same so you can create that interesting appeal.
Localising food product names
A good example of knowing what to change would be Starbucks launching its Gingerbread Latte in Germany. Gingerbread is a massively popular holiday treat in Germany and Starbucks was confident of launching the drink in the build up to Christmas.
That was until sales figures revealed how unpopular its Gingerbread Latte was. Eventually, the famous coffee firm realised most Germans don’t actually use the word gingerbread. Go figure. In fact, it turned out they had their own word for it and sales flourished after Starbucks changed the name to a more familiar Lebkuchen Latte.
Knowing when to translate the names of food products can be tricky. As a rule of thumb, though, ingredients or flavours like gingerbread are first in line for being translated.
But what’s really interesting about this example is the word “latte” has a fairly crude meaning in German slang. Much to the amusement of German Starbucks-goers, the firm stuck with the name Lebkuchen Latte and never looked back.
Localise packaging to earn trust
This one counts for any consumer product launching overseas but food packaging is particularly important. Food packaging is a major extension of branding for food products and the global food brands have got this nailed.
All people need to see is a Starbucks cup and suddenly they’re craving a Lebkuchen Latte or their localised equivalent.
That packaging needs to adapt for different markets though – not only for consumers but from a legal perspective too. First of all, the materials you can use depend on local production and recycling laws.
You’ll also have regulations for the information that needs to be visible: age limits, nutritional info, health warnings, cooking instructions and various other things.
With the legalities covered you then start thinking about localising your packaging for the consumer. This is especially important for products that sell on the shelves in direct competition with rival products.
Your packaging wants to look trustworthy but also stand out from the products around it and call out to shoppers. Getting that balance right takes market research to understand consumer reaction, your competition and the local marketing environment.
A good example of this is beer and rice wine packaging in South Korea, which feature female models and celebrities to target a male-dominant market. It might be a little crude for some cultures but works well in South Korea.
However, the same approach would not fly in countries like Malaysia or Indonesia. It could even raise questions in the UK on the grounds of sexism and female objectification. These are the kind of cultural details you need to understand with every given market.
Something else unique about food products is the need to have nutritional information. We touched on this earlier, but is an important topic worth discussing in itself.
Once again it comes with legal requirements that vary across countries. It also depends on the type of products you’re selling. And, of course, you have to think about the consumer reaction, not just the legal impact.
At the end of the day, people want to know they can trust what they’re eating. Translating nutritional information is a pretty basic requirement.
How you display them on the packaging for each market might be determined by guidelines in the country, but also your products and the local market.
Let’s say you’re in the business of healthy alternative foods. Diet trends and the concept of healthy food can vary across different countries. Where low in salt and low in sugar might sell more products in the UK, low in cholesterol might be the bigger seller in Mediterranean Europe, for example.
Equally, high in Vitamin D could be seasonally popular in northern parts of Sweden and Finland where spells of 24-hour darkness occur during the winter months.
Address any local food concerns
When food scandals such as horse meat being sold as beef, or a radiation leaks have contaminated food supplies, you need to factor this into your marketing strategy.
Not all local food concerns are that extreme, of course, but they are all important. You’ll find booming vegan markets in various parts of the world – from California to Bail – where many people monitor their meat intake quite seriously.
Meanwhile, China and many other countries have seen a boom in the organic food sector in recent years, following concerns about food safety. These are things you need to know about before you start launching food products into a new market.
If you’re already established in a market when a new food concern affects sales, you have to make that call whether it’s a passing fad or time to localise your products once again.
Not all food concerns or trends will be bad for your business. Some of them will be opportunities for you to exploit. Having the flexibility to take advantage of trends can be invaluable. After all, what better way is there to earn trust than being the brand that helps folk out during a food crisis?
Product localisation is important for any brand venturing into a new market. That said, the food industry can be one of the most demanding to localise for – not only from a consumer perspective but also the legal side of things, therefore, professional help of a translation agency is simply key.
And, when it comes to making your food products trustworthy in a new market, establishing that feeling of familiarity through localisation is essential.
Once you have that trust, though, people will start buying your products without even thinking about it. Establish yourself as the brand people go to by habit, rather than choice, and you’ve got them for life.