There’s only so much that the international aisle in the supermarket can contain, spurring innovative retailers to tap into this demand.
Buying habits of the Brits
British expats are the key target market of online grocery store British Corner Shop, which services over 150 countries around the globe with over 10,000 popular products, from Marmite to McVities.
It has over 500,000 regular shoppers globally, with its biggest markets being Europe, the US, Canada and Australia. Managing director Mark Callaghan says border closures have heightened demand.
“We get a lot of feedback from our customers telling us we’re a lifeline to those that are abroad as they’ve been unable to come home and visit family and/or pick up their favourite foods from home at the same time,” Callaghan told Inside Retail.
“Food creates such an emotive response from people. It’s been wonderful to know we’ve helped customers feel more connected to home by sending them food which brings back happy memories.”
The pandemic impacted sales significantly as online shopping for food became a necessity rather than a convenience. The business grew by 141 per cent between March 2020 and March 2021, and 100 new staff were hired to cope with demand.
Last month, the retailer welcomed popular British brand Marks and Spencer to the fold, bringing in over 800 new products from Percy Pig sweets to M&S’ Extremely Chocolatey Milk Rounds.
Callaghan said the M&S partnership is a perfect fit for both parties.
“Our customers are not just British expats but other nationals who appreciate the quality assurance they get from buying British-made products. So, not only will our expat customers be overjoyed they can now reunite with their most missed M&S foods, but our non-expat customers will no doubt rejoice as well.”
Brexit challenges UK exporters
As a UK-based export business, Brexit has presented some new challenges. British Corner Shop recently opened its first warehouse outside of the UK, in the Netherlands, in response to export issues it was facing post Brexit.
As a result, orders are picked, packed and shipped within Europe, meaning it can provide customers with faster delivery.
“In the future we may replicate this in other countries where delivery costs are a major barrier for people to order,” he said.
While British Corner Shop doesn’t have a physical store presence, Callaghan hasn’t ruled it out as a possibility in the future.
Beyond selling goods, British Corner Shop connects a large community of expats on social media, with 130,000 followers on Facebook and 21,000 on Instagram. It created a Facebook group called British Food Lovers to unite those with a shared interest in British food.
“We have 7500 very engaged members who predominantly showcase their skills when it comes to cooking classic British food.
“This group isn’t just for expats however, we encourage anyone who loves British food, or who wants to try it, to join the group and get involved.”
The business also gets customers involved in its marketing. One of its most successful Christmas campaign videos was solely made up from video clips taken by customers when they received their order.
“We believe showing the authentic emotion that ordering from us can bring is much more engaging and relatable for other expats.”
Demand from Irish diaspora
Across the water in Ireland, an e-commerce site selling hampers of popular Irish products to those living abroad is also seeing great success.
“While sales to the United States and Canada are really good, Australia has proven to be our main market,” Irishify co-founder Paddy Casey said.
Irishify.com has proven so popular with the Irish diaspora in Australia unable to travel home, that it is looking to introduce a bricks-and-mortar offering in the country.
“Initially, we considered an Antipodean distribution hub, but demand is so high we are exploring retail options in the likes of Sydney, Melbourne and Perth.”
Over 11 per cent of the Irish diaspora reside in Australia. At the time of the 2016 Census, 74,888 Irish-born people were recorded in Australia.
Interestingly, the business has also realised there’s demand for Australian products from expats living in Ireland and the UK and is considering shipping hampers full of Aussie goods in the opposite direction to service those customers.
“One of our colleagues in our HQ in Ireland is from Brisbane and he really misses his home comforts like Tim Tams and Vegemite,” Casey said. “He brought some stuff back after his last visit home and we enjoyed some Twisties and Smith’s chips.”
A taste of Korea
For Korean expats a taste of home comes in the form of My Seoul Box, a subscription box that features authentic Korean snacks and K-pop goodies.
The business was created in 2019 by two friends, Suji Sohn and Raj Sathi, who were struggling with the limited Korean snacks available in London. They wanted to narrow the gap with home and share the love for Korean culture with others.
“Our differences are what make us more unique, we can learn from each other while we are all sharing the same love for one culture in particular, Korean,” the company states.
My Seoul Box offers monthly, quarterly and annual subscriptions as well as one-off boxes. The monthly signature box features 18 authentic Korean snacks and goodies, a magazine packed with cultural and culinary insights, K-pop merch and K-beauty products as well as ramen and drinks.
Each monthly box follows a different theme and products are curated around this. September, for example, is ‘Back to School’ month and gives a glimpse into Korean uni life with items such as energy drinks, red ginseng, chilli fries, black bean noodles and protein bars.
The team’s mission with every box is for customers to discover something new about Korea, whether that’s a new sensation or a unique flavour.
After starting out in the UK, My Seoul Box expanded to France, Spain, India and the US, and it is now based in Korea. They deliver all over the world with 2-5 days international express shipping.
“We describe ourselves as a cocktail. Within the whole team, we gather more than five different nationalities, we speak more than eight different languages.”
Prime time for expat retailers
In Australia, where international borders have remained closed for 18 months, demand is high for international goods. Jonathan Reeve, a British and general manager APAC for SaaS platform Eagle Eye, says it’s an ideal time for these players to enter the market.
“Australian consumers are getting used to shopping online and Australian courier companies are getting better at delivering to the home. The combination of these two trends means international retailers are opening up Australian e-commerce sites because they can see a big sales opportunity,” Reeve told Inside Retail.
“On a personal note, I’m delighted I can now get my hands on Prawn Cocktail flavour crisps.”