Researching an export market means much more than a few hours on Google, at least when done professionally. Researching an export market requires lateral thinking, perseverance, experience, skill and a good ear. But above all, it requires an open attitude: things over “there” can be quite different from over “here”.

Now, I am a market researcher, that’s my passion. I spend almost every day of the working week happily researching Latin American markets, mainly for British clients – from those in electrical engineering to those in plastics, food machinery, nursery goods and more. But I fell for this one. So I thought I’d share the lesson with you.

I love food. And I’ve learnt to love baking. But after 12 months in Uruguay, I couldn’t find it. Not in the big supermarket near home (part of the French Geant group, if you’re into retail), not in the other big, big one outside town (the big Geant), not in the little local shops. Bicarbonate of soda (“bicarb”, as Nigella calls it) was nowhere to be seen. I have to say that after handling a whole family move across the ocean, business included, “bicarb” quickly dropped down the list of priorities, I embraced my local  (and amazing) “panadería” (bakery shop) and that was the end of the story.

I was looking for something "sort of like this"...

I was looking for something “sort of like this”…

Until the muffins didn’t go quite right. Yes, they were missing “bicarb” and the supermarket guy told me they hadn’t stocked it in 5 months. 5 months?! Could you imagine Tesco not stocking the round little “bicarb” for 5 months? That one, the one right next to the baking powder… “How am I supposed to bake without it?” I said to the shop assistant at the wholefoods shop, in despair. “Oh – she said – just pop down to the pharmacy next door, they’ll have it”. Damn! If only I had remembered before, the pharmacy! Of course, “bicarb” is sold at pharmacies in Uruguay, here you can see mine in its little pharma packet…

But I got something sort of like that!

But I got something sort of like that!

Upset about my total dumbness yet happy with my new acquisition (12 pesos for 100g, that’s about 33p – probably the one thing cheaper in Uruguay than in the UK!), I shared my triumph with my dad. “Of course, you buy bicarbonate of soda at the pharmacy”, he said. He knew all the way along. Mind you, he doesn’t bake – but he uses it for cleaning (lateral thinking, remember?) And I hadn’t asked him. I made two huge market research mistakes in one: assuming that things would work like here like they work there (that the “bicarb” would be sold by supermarkets, and right next to the baking powder, in their pretty round pots) and not asking the people who would know (I did ask friends, but they don’t bake!). Lesson (re-)learnt. Back to the muffin tray, now.

PS If you’re not into baking and need to understand why I just didn’t use baking powder for bicarbonate of soda, check out this rather illustrative article!

Also, a guest blogger mentioned something about recipes and language a while ago in this blog – Speak to Me!

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