Retrocorn Popcorn wins first order in China

Retrocorn has won a large order in China for its hand-popped corn, thanks to market entry support from Essex International.


Retrocorn, a small artisan business, knew that the snack market in China was huge and growing fast, but was not sure how to go about finding buyers and distributors and knew little about how to navigate China’s food regulation and labelling laws.  They approached Essex International in March 2016 who immediately began to find them a route to the Chinese market.

Essex International Research the Chinese Market

The first task was to find out whether Retrocorn’s product would resonate with Chinese consumers.  The growth of the wealthier middle classes has led to a boom in the consumption of foreign food and beverages in China.  Consumers there are eager to try new taste experiences from around the world and are drawn to British products because they know they will be safe and of high quality.  But popcorn is newer on the scene compared with more established favourites such as potato crisps, so the key questions were would enough people want popcorn, and how can Retrocorn reach them? 

Retrocorn is a small business, so the cost of performing market entry work was a key factor.  Essex International started by understanding Retrocorn’s unique selling points and gauging how they might resonate with the Chinese.  Retrocorn is a relatively low calorie snack and has a cool British retro brand.  And while the Chinese may not quite ‘get’ the nostalgia of the flavours of many British childhoods, like rhubarb and custard and sherbet pips, the flavours themselves are novel and tasty in their own right.  In the end, though, rhubarb and custard was ruled out as the Chinese mostly use rhubarb as a traditional medicine rather than as a pudding, demonstrating how important it is to tune in to local tastes and traditions.

The product was tested with a group of buyers and distributors, and feedback was gathered about the preferences for flavours and on the price.  This was positive and so Essex International supported Retrocorn to work with a distributor to run a trial sale in a chain of shops in the Yangtse River Delta region.  This involved helping Retrocorn prepare the right labelling and obtain the right food quality certification needed by Chinese customs. 

Market Entry

Unfortunately, the Chinese distributor decided not to continue after the trial sale.  But in China a willingness to persevere is essential.  A further 30 distributors had been contacted in the initial phase and one of these also liked Retrocorn’s product.  Essex International brokered a deal so that the new distributor could transfer the unsold stock of the previous buyer.  They became the main product on display at the new distributor’s stand at Shanghai FHC, China’s largest food exhibition. 

Success in China

The exhibition provoked a lot of interest from supermarkets and other retailers leading to a substantial first order.  Retrocorn is currently busy manufacturing and shipping its first order while its China distributor explores additional channels.

Want to grow your business in China?

Essex International can help you sell your product in China.

Essex International help their clients by quickly connecting them to influential buyers and decision-makers such as end-users, distributors, specifiers or government officials.

Essex International promote your product to the right people straight away and get you answers to some key questions:

  • Is there a market for my product or service in China?
  • How do I identify the best route to market and understand the regulations?
  • How does my product compare with the competition?
  • How do I get closer to my distributors?
  • How will I manage communications in Chinese to close deals?

Even if you are already in China, Essex International can help you get a tighter grip or expand your market.

Peter Manning
Peter Manning

Head of Essex International

+44 (0) 7907 025 155


Extensive 'in market' experience in China, India and the UK. 15 years in the fields of inward investment, international trade, international realtionships and business development. His experience of helping UK and Chinese businesses, universities and governments do business together has given Peter detailed knowledge of how to do business in China and a wide range of contacts. Peter has an MBA from Henley Business School (Reading University), and was awarded an OBE in 2019 in the New Year’s Honours List for UK/China Relations.

Paul White
Paul White

Senior Export Services Manager

+44 (0) 7738 885007


Paul leads our export team. He has lived and worked in China for many years and now works with companies to help put their products and services into the Chinese market. Paul works with businesses in the UK to identify their China-specific USPs and then identify interested buyers in China, with our China-based team.