Boom times beckon for Bulla Dairy Foods

Austrade

Victorian dairy manufacturer sets out for new markets with Austrade’s assistance

2 December 2021

Bulla Dairy Foods may be 111 years old but the dairy manufacturer is just getting started. The company achieved record domestic sales for its chilled and frozen products in 2020–21. Exports held steady, despite a challenging trade environment. To keep up with demand, Bulla employed an additional 200 staff over 2020.

The family-owned business is now embarking on its next stage of growth. It wants to grow exports from 5% of revenue to 25% over the next 5 to 7 years.

This ambition will be supported by a $4.5 million grant from the Australian Government’s Modern Manufacturing Initiative. Bulla will use the funding for a purpose-built facility to make new ice cream lines. The new products, such as cones and sandwiches, will be sold here and overseas.

‘Our international growth has no limit,’ says Sam Zhang, Bulla’s International Business Manager.

‘Austrade has been and will be pivotal to our export business. They’ve helped us find new customers and sell on major platforms. I’m very happy with the support we’ve received from Austrade in Australia and overseas.’

Austrade is scaling up its services to help agri-exporters under the Agribusiness Expansion Initiative.

Exports to drive business growth

Bulla has been exporting for 25 years and is present in over 20 countries.

‘We had a mixed year in exports in 2020–21,’ says Zhang. ‘Our North Asia sales dropped off. But we grew sales by more than 30% in Southeast Asia. We did particularly well in Malaysia and Singapore.’

Historically, Bulla entered markets after receiving enquiries from customers. The company decided to take a more strategic approach to exporting 2 years ago. It has now developed a 5 to 7-year growth plan, in which exports have a prominent role.

Bulla has developed a clear distribution strategy for each country. This has helped boost sales in key markets. In Malaysia, one of its strongest markets, Bulla tripled sales over the last 2 years. ‘Sales went up by 50% for ice cream last financial year,’ says Zhang.

Bulla also stopped making products for every market. This approach was costly and did not achieve the returns the company wanted. Today Bulla makes all of its products to comply with international standards. This includes ingredients, packaging and labelling.

‘What we sell in Australia is what we sell in our export markets,’ says Zhang. ‘It’s cost-efficient and supports our “Unfakeable” messaging, which emphasises our authentic Australian product.’

Doing business during a pandemic

A key pillar in Bulla’s export strategy is expanding its presence in existing markets. China is one of these markets. The company entered China in 2019. After 2 years, it was selling its frozen and chilled products on Tmall.com and JD.com. These platforms reach a potential 800 million consumers.

The pandemic put the handbrakes on Bulla’s China plans. The company faced extra restrictions and checks on frozen products. It could not access critical distribution points. Geopolitical tensions also dampened interest in Australian products.

These issues prompted Bulla to review its export strategy and develop a long-term plan for China. The company is working with Austrade to find new distributors and build its brand. It is speaking with major supermarket chains to get into their stores. It also hopes to attend the Festival of Australia and the China International Import Expo.

‘We’ve not given up on China,’ says Zhang. ‘It is an important market for Bulla, and we believe things will turn around.’

Working with Austrade to enter new markets

Bulla was keen to enter the UK to leverage new opportunities arising from Brexit. The company worked with Austrade for 10 months in the lead up to Brexit. Almost 2 years after Brexit, however, the UK is still adhering to the EU’s complex non-tariff barriers.

Bulla then added plant-based products to the portfolio.

‘We’re working with our UK distributor to import our dairy-free Nourish ice cream,’ says Zhang. ‘Starting with Nourish will build our brand in the UK. When the dairy door opens, we will be ready.’

Zhang says Austrade is providing tremendous support. ‘Austrade has been helping us connect with potential customers and sales platforms. They are inviting us to virtual events to help build brand in awareness the market.’

He also hopes the Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement will open up export opportunities.

Thailand is another work in progress. Bulla and Austrade are working on market entry and product registration. Austrade is also helping find new opportunities for Bulla’s frozen products in the Philippines.

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Growing brand awareness with Austrade’s help

Travel restrictions mean Zhang cannot leave Australia to meet partners and grow business. Austrade is supporting Bulla’s brand-building strategies in key markets.

In Taiwan, Austrade has invited Bulla’s distributor to a major product showcase. Bulla will also display its ice cream at the event venue. Austrade will target food services companies and connect Bulla’s distributor with qualified leads.

In Vietnam, Austrade is working with retailers on “Taste of Australia” in-store promotions in September. The agency is also working with e-commerce platform Lazada on three “Taste of Australia” campaigns.

‘Austrade’s support is invaluable in helping us raise our profile in new markets,’ says Zhang. ‘We appreciate it at a time when we can’t travel to the markets ourselves.’

Investing for the future

Bulla’s growth plans have flow-on benefits for the community in Colac and surrounding regions. ‘Almost every family in Colac has a member who worked at Bulla,’ says Zhang. ‘We’re proud to have supported many people and will keep giving back to the community.

‘Bulla has ambitious plans for the next 5 to 7 years,’ says Zhang. ‘We are a 111-year-old business, and we are getting ready for the next 100 years.’

Go further, faster with Austrade

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