Plans, problems and patience: doing business in the agri-food sector in South America

By Edwin Reyes

Last week, we hosted an introductory webinar in conjunction with Uruguay-based market entry specialists, Sunny Sky Solutions, on doing business in the agri-food sector in South America. We were joined by Gaby Castro-Fontoura, who kicked of proceedings by introducing South America and then summarised its main nine markets in under 15 minutes. A task that should not be underestimated!

We learnt that South America is vast and diverse, and why doing business in Peru, for example, is not the same as doing business in Paraguay or Brazil. Gaby also gave us a very down-to-earth view of the pros and cons of doing business in agri-food across these countries, mentioning issues such as bureaucracy, informality, import duties, and macroeconomic and political instability.

Insight into smaller markets, like Uruguay or Chile, showed us that they could become good test markets, ideal for agricultural pilots and building those first invaluable case studies. Gaby mentioned the complexity of doing business in the larger markets too, such as Brazil or Argentina, but also gave us a few tips on how to target them.

One of the most interesting parts of the webinar was realising the immense opportunities in agri-food in South America. We were provided with information on some key players in the industry, a few stats, and some recent developments that show how this sector is growing right now. Local knowledge is a must and we need to go down to the business level to fully grasp opportunities.

We were left with three key pieces of advice for achieving success in this region:

  1. Work out what problem you are trying to solve.

Once you understand that, which can take months (easily a year, and sometimes more, Gaby explained), you will understand where you fit in that market and will be able to focus. In order to understand what problem you are solving for your potential client, you need to do some market research, listen to a lot of people on the ground, be flexible and look beyond the obvious (not just beef in Argentina but also peanuts and lemons, not just beef in Uruguay but also lamb, dairy and rice).

2. Have a plan

Gaby firmly said, “do not come to South America without a plan, even a research plan, if you are not sure of the potential. Parachuting into the region could mean wasting precious money and time, and ruin your reputation and credibility”. A plan for 2021, for example, could include some broad and then deeper research, some training and capacity building, and/or some work on the marketing front. This applies to SMEs selling to farmers or the agri-food industry, but also to research organisations, chambers and trade promotion bodies.

3. Be patient

Latin America can easily take 1-5 years to “get going” and you will have to invest in research, samples, visits, translations, adaptations, contracts etc. Perseverance is key and shows commitment, particularly in a region where relationships are crucial to doing business.

We received excellent feedback on this webinar from British exporters interested in South America as well as from research organisations, trade promotion bodies, chambers and those interested in engaging with this fascinating region.

If you missed the webinar and would like more advice on accessing new markets, contact the Promar Agri-food team. Our experts can provide tailored advice and guidance

We look forward to working with Sunny Sky Solutions again in the next few months as we bring South America and the UK closer together – watch this space!