Gerrit Hellema in China

Gerrit Hellema: “To build business, you need to build relations first”

February 6, 2020

What makes worldwide recognized cookie brand Hellema-Hallum, active in the Asian market for over 15 years, want to take part in a Frisian trade mission to China? Director Gerrit Hellema joined the expedition of 2019 looking to test his hypothesis: “We always had the idea that doing business in China is closely intertwined with the government. So, the intermediation and involvement of the province of Friesland did open door for us.”

The unique family business has more than 150 years of experience in baking the best cookies and developing successful brands. Old traditions continue with the innovation of the future: the latest manufacturing techniques, technologies and high-quality assurance systems. Their flexible company structure makes that Hellema-Hallum can quickly respond to inquiries from the international market.

“At Hellema-Hallum we are used to do business in a manner that we adopted years ago. Nowadays, instead of middle-men, we’re aiming at finding trading partners, food-retailers in our case, so we can trade directly with them. This was also the case in China, despite the fact that it is far away. With success, though: we managed to become a direct supplier of the Chinese Walmart stores.”

The company joined the Frisian mission to China because they learned that doing business in China often involves pairing with the government. “I was positively surprised by the trip. It confirmed our idea that the Chinese government is involved in business matters. At least, that is how we experienced it. The support of the province of Friesland was very beneficial. Also, the business culture in China is different to ours. We knew that already, but due to the relations of the governments, you get a better insight into to actual Chinese culture: a very important aspect of doing business.”

Cookies is a field that Hellema-Hallum is extremely knowledgeable in. However, along the journey the company discovered that the Chinese taste is different to ours: “It is basal, but very important to our business. In China they appreciate less sweet flavors, in comparison to other parts of the world. Now, when we have possible interesting products for the Chinese market, we pay close attention to this aspect of taste: to make sure that it’s not too sweet for their liking.”

“In addition, the possibilities in China are countless. Because the country is so large, doing business could easily yield a lot of volume. We wanted to see if we could expand our business and we were able to positively answer that question,” Gerrit continues. “However, the market is enormously fragmented. The population is difficult to reach, due to the fact that the huge cities have many small shops instead of a few big retailstores.”

The trade mission was a start of building new long-term relations for Hellema-Hallum. “We made a number of good appointments. When you first meet potential business contacts, it is important to take your time and see if there is a click. In our case the first meetings went promising: we immediately got to talk about specific business matters. Currently, we are still working to finalize the processes. From our past in China we know that it is a matter of taking things step by step. Building a good relationship takes time and in order to build business, you need to build relations first.”

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Hellema is a unique family business with more than 150 years experience in baking the best cookies and developing successful brands. Old traditions continue with …