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Cultural understanding increases seafood exports

“Norwegian seafood exporters are too laid back about their products in demanding export markets. Cultural sensitivity is the key to better results,” asserts researcher Gro Alteren in her doctoral thesis at the BI Norwegian School of Management.

Norway exports seafood to around 155 different countries throughout the world, and the seafood industry is one of our most important export trades.

Norwegian seafood exports have had an almost universal presence in certain markets. However this position has certainly led to us developing a rather too laissez faire attitude when it comes to fish. We are far from having a universal presence on the international fish counter. The competition is increasing.

Choosing Denmark over Russia

“We sell too much of our seafood to the fish processing industry in Denmark, who are not so different from us. Nordic businesses are not so good at establishing long-term relations in countries that are culturally different from us, for example Russia, France, Italy and Japan,” claims researcher Gro Alteren.

As an example, she points to seafood exporters in Troms and Finnmark, who sell as much as a quarter of their seafood exports to Denmark.

“I think this is too easy and defensive,” says Alteren. “By going for demanding markets such as Russia, the industry obtains the opportunity to become more professional within export markets.”

For her doctoral thesis at the BI Norwegian School of Management, Gro Alteren performed a study within the Norwegian seafood industry to discover whether cultural sensitivity can aid in developing lasting and strategically important trade relations within export markets. She conducted a survey to which 111 people who are responsible for serving customers in export markets responded.

The key to demanding markets

Cultural sensitivity and cultural understanding are decisive elements of success in export markets. This is perhaps not so surprising. But what on earth is cultural sensitivity? And how does a seafood exporter proceed to master the cultural differences within their export markets?

“A seafood exporter with well developed cultural sensitivity will have the necessary knowledge of the attitude, skills and experience that are required when handling cultural differences within the export market,” explains Alteren.

In her doctoral thesis, Gro Alteren further develops the concept of cultural sensitivity. The following four dimensions prove to be important expressions of cultural sensitivity:

1) Experience and in-depth knowledge of the export country,
2) Candour and continual updating of the markets and customers,
3) Adaptation of business style and negotiation skills,
4) Knowledge of languages.
Criteria for success
Gro Alteren’s study of Norwegian seafood exporters proves that the ability to adapt one’s business style and method to obtain new customers is a decisive element of success in countries that are culturally different from Norway.

Moreover, this is not something that you can learn on a course or in training programmes.

“First hand knowledge is acquired by serving different customers within the market and by making frequent deliveries and deals; these are what help a business to develop their ability to adapt their business style to the customers they serve,” maintains Alteren.

On Wednesday 30th May 2007, Gro Alteren defended her doctoral thesis at BI Norwegian School of Management with the thesis “Does Cultural Sensitivity Matter to Maintaining Business Relationships in the Export Markets? An empirical investigation in the Norwegian seafood industry.”

Audun Farbrot | alfa
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