By Martin Davidian, Managing Director Sales UK and Ireland, FedEx Express

The UK confectionery industry is growing at an extraordinary rate. The latest UKTI figures show this trend is a direct result of increasing overseas demand, with exports of chocolates, sweets and biscuits recently surpassing £1bn for the first time in history. Chocolate consumption in particular has demonstrated significant growth over the last two decades, with seasonal events, such as Easter, representing the biggest opportunities for chocolate manufacturers across the globe. In 2014, it was even predicted that chocolate Easter eggs were likely to be one of the nation’s top food and drink exports, following an increase in international sales of more than £5m the previous year. As we move into 2015, we can expect to see continued growth across the sector as the UK’s home-grown confectionery brands use their very “Britishness” to help them tap into the world’s sweet tooth.

The global "sugar rush"

British companies are now selling their produces to 150 countries worldwide, delivering homemade products to the very countries with which they are traditionally associated. Contrary to expectation, British firms are now sending wine to France, tea to China and increasingly, chocolate to Switzerland and Belgium. Chocolate exports from the UK to Switzerland have increased by 160 percent in the last four years alone. But it’s not just established markets already well known for their chocolate histories and celebrations; emerging economies also represent huge opportunities.

While much of Western Europe and the US have long favoured chocolate as their guilty pleasure, China, for example, has only developed a taste for chocolate in the last decade. Without doubt, Easter has definitely set the standard when it comes to chocolate consumption, but this increasingly global appetite for cocoa products means UK businesses are becoming less bound by domestic seasonal occasions, Easter included. Instead, they might look to attract customers in Mexico ahead of Dia de la Muertos, where chocolate plays a central role in remembering loved ones.

The road to (sweet) success

Logistics has a vital role to play in connecting the UK with lucrative markets. Confectionery supply chains can be complex and flexibility is fundamental, particularly during busy seasonal periods. While shipping perishable items over long distances may seem daunting, the right support from your logistics provider can make a huge difference in providing local knowledge and strategic insight.

With that in mind, we have put together what we see as the biggest exporting challenges facing companies in the confectionery sector when exporting, along with our advice for overcoming them:

1. Transporting safely and securely

The delicate nature of chocolates and sweets means that timely and successful delivery is even more important, but finding a balance between value and speed can be a challenge with items like these. To ensure your products are transported safely and arrive on time, make sure you choose a reliable provider who can offer tailor made services, providing time-definite, customs-cleared and door-to-door delivery.

2. Meeting and maintaining customer demand

Efficiency and speed to market are important in positioning your business as leader of the pack in terms of quick delivery. Quality and presentation of the product on arrival should also be a top priority, as it certainly will be for your customers. You can never quite predict when a product might increase in demand, so be sure to plan accordingly and ensure employees are fully briefed for such an eventuality. Focus on agility and flexibility within your supply chain operations to keep your products in pristine condition, even when sending them over hundreds of miles of land, sea and air.

3. Customs regulations

The fast pace with which duties and taxes change can make customs clearance challenging to understand – especially in the food and drink industry where each product will have different rules and regulations. Your logistics provider is best placed to have the latest customs information to hand, with specialists who can navigate any hurdles on your behalf, advising on the right solutions and services for your business’ needs.

4. Choosing the right markets to enter

Deciding which countries to export to can be confusing, especially if you are a relatively new business. You may find yourself in the middle of some conflicting advice and opinions, so trust your instinct, do your research but also, always speak to the logistics experts. Their on-the-ground knowledge and experience will prove invaluable for both short and long-term decision-making, geared at making your business as profitable as possible.

5. Language barriers

Communication is essential at all stages throughout the supply chain, and when shipping overseas language barriers can be difficult to navigate and sometimes slow the process down. Ensuring on the ground support and local contacts are important to alleviate any potential challenges of this nature.

It’s an exciting time for UK businesses looking to broaden their horizons, particularly in this ever-evolving industry. By adapting logistical methods to support rapid globalisation and offering intelligent solutions, logistics providers can enable the growth of the UK’s booming confectionery sector and UK brands can benefit from a globalised market of opportunities.