By Maximilian Clarke
A London company is breaking into international markets with its UK-produced, 100% natural mosquito repellent, which promises unprecedented levels of effectiveness in protecting against malaria.
The export potential of incognito, made by the Notting Hill based company of the same name, is enormous. Sales in the UK are still growing, but are set to be dwarfed as new overseas territories are opened up with assistance from UK Trade & Investment (UKTI).
“The idea of exporting was daunting at first, and we were still improving the product," said the company's founder and CEO, Howard Carter. "In its first formulation, its efficacy in repelling mosquitoes was measured at 82% by the London School of Tropical Medicine, which is around the norm for most high-street insect repellents. However, our new formulation of incognito spray is 100% effective, which means the sky is the limit!”
Howard first used the services of UKTI’s London International Trade Team at the end of 2009.
“We received financial support through the Export Marketing Research Scheme [EMRS],” he recalled, “to conduct exhaustive in-market research in the USA on the viability of entering that market. What became apparent was the complexity of the decentralised American market, from regulation to extra tiers of distribution. We decided that our retail success in the UK and other markets could not be replicated in the US. So, we are planning a ‘soft’ launch, building business gradually through a US web site, www.incognito.us, which will be live by January 2012.
“This is a classic example of research saving money and time, and revealing the best way to approach a market. Had we gone in there, all guns blazing, incognito would have been crippled.”
On the advice of UKTI London International Trade Adviser Sabe Tibbitts, Howard commissioned an OMIS (Overseas Market Introduction Service) report on Hong Kong from UKTI staff in the British Consulate-General. This confirmed the demand for a high-end mosquito repellent, supplying market statistics and details of local competitors. It also confirmed that, with the absence of regulatory hurdles in Hong Kong for a natural insect repellent, incognito could go direct to distributors, and provided introductions to a number of prospective partners.
The opportunity for Howard to follow up these findings came when incognito was invited to Hong Kong in September 2011 to exhibit on the UKTI group stand at Natural Products Expo Asia. Consular staff arranged nine further meetings with (mainly Hong Kong) distributors.
“At the event, we met 12 potential HK distributors in all, one of whom said they take very seriously companies who have been introduced by UKTI,” said Howard. “In the end, we identified distributors for Hong Kong, Indonesia, and Japan. We even picked up another UK distributor, The Health Store, who also exhibited at the Expo. We sold our entire stock and, such was the demand, three UKTI staff from the consulate worked on the stand when I was in meetings with distributors!”
"Now that our international business is really starting to grow, with export sales nearly quadrupling every month, we have moved all our manufacturing back to the UK,” Howard said. “Although production costs may be lower overseas, manufacturing here offers a level of quality that can't be guaranteed elsewhere and which is essential to maintain the reputation and effectiveness of the product in export markets. Our spray is produced at a factory in Luton that would have gone under without this work. It is now in profit and producing 40,000 bottles a month."
With UKTI support, Howard is now looking at Hawaii, Thailand (which he visited with UKTI financial assistance this year) and the enormous African market. “Africa will be our biggest market,” he predicted, “once we have FDA approval. In Nigeria, where we have had good advice from UKTI, we have set up a company to help oil workers, many of whom are at high risk from malaria. Once monthly sales exceed 100,000 units, we have a contractual agreement to set up manufacturing under licence there — a model that could be repeated elsewhere.
We get quality advice from business professionals who know what they are doing. Sabe, for example, has brought a brand to market herself, and is a huge resource of knowledge and experience. Overall, UKTI projects an aura of substance when introducing your company abroad.”
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