Roma Foods shakes and bakes in Chile with allergen-free range

Victorian manufacturer Roma Food Products has doubled sales in one year in a niche category in a market 13,000 km from Australia, after Austrade introduced the company to one of Latin America’s largest retail conglomerates.

The agency connected Chilean retail giant Cencosud to Roma Foods during a trade mission to Australia. Cencosud selected Roma Foods as one of 12 brands to import after meeting with scores of Australian food and beverage companies.

Within 2 years of the Cencosud meeting, Roma Foods had increased the volume and range of products it exported to Chile. Today, the company’s gluten-free, allergen-free flours, pasta, baking mixes, cereals, snacks and pantry items can be found across the country.

“The introduction from Austrade transformed our business in Chile,” says Matt O’Brien, head of sales, Roma Food Products.

“Our 2017 sales went up 25 per cent on 2016. And our 2018 sales were double those in 2017. Chile is now one of our top 3 export markets.”

Roma Foods was founded in 1953 as a pasta manufacturer. After it was acquired by the Buontempo family, the company began making products using alternative grains such as millet, buckwheat and quinoa. It is now Australia’s largest manufacturer of gluten-free and allergen-free products. Its brands include Orgran, Buontempo, Spliits, Pasta Roma and Freemills.

Roma Foods made export a strategic focus of its business from the start and now exports to over 50 markets. Its top markets include Chile, New Zealand and the UK. It also has a strong presence in Asia and Europe.

Roma Foods started exporting to Chile in 2012. Sales were steady until 2015, when Austrade entered the picture. The agency organised for several South American retailers to visit Australia on a trade mission hosted by Food Innovation Australia Limited (FIAL).

Among the delegates was Cencosud, one of Latin America’s largest multi-brand retail conglomerates. The group is active in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru and Colombia. It owns 915 supermarkets, 49 department stores, and 67 shopping centres and malls.

“Cencosud features our products on their website banners free of charge and displays our products in prominent locations,” explained O’Brien.

“We started out with a couple of products on one shelf; now we have a wall of products and display stands. Their support is a major reason for our success in Chile.”

Latin America is an emerging market for free-from foods. An increasingly health-conscious population is driving demand for gluten-free, dairy-free and allergen-free products. Its first-mover advantage and Cencosud’s backing means Roma Foods has a solid footing in this market. This is further bolstered by Australia’s favourable reputation as a source of clean, green food products.

In recent years, Roma Foods has shifted its focus to priority markets with the most opportunities. The company is now working with Austrade to map out its strategy for these markets.

“We want to make sure we are targeting the right market for our products,” O’Brien said.

“We rely on Austrade for market insights. For instance, we have a broad product portfolio in many different categories. We wanted to know which categories would be relevant to the market in question.

“Austrade give us data on product categories, including which ones have growth potential. We found out who our competitors are and what market share they have. The business development managers in-market provide so much context for us.

“Austrade is my first point of contact when we want to understand a particular market,’ says O’Brien. ‘I speak to them 2 to 3 times a month. Their information can help us decide whether we enter a market.”

Learn more about Roma Foods here.

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