Messina takes success in Hong Kong


One of Australia’s best-loved gelato brands is now available in Hong Kong. Gelato Messina has partnered with Hong Kong’s restaurant hospitality team, Black Sheep Restaurants, to open its first gelateria in Central, on one of the city’s most prestigious streets, in October 2021.

The road to Hong Kong took 18 months of hard work. Austrade provided essential advice and support as Messina went through the rigorous Hong Kong import license application process for the company’s award-winning milk.

“Austrade’s unwavering support and ability to overcome the hurdles we faced was key to developing the concept in this dynamic city,” says Simon Ravindran, Messina’s international business development.

“There is an added level of reassurance when you work with Austrade. Their presence and experience on the ground is essential, paving the way for Australian companies looking to expand into international markets.

Make ice cream from scratch using quality ingredients

Messina manufactures its products using the highest quality ingredients. She owns and operates a dairy farm in Victoria, where she raises 450 pasture-fed Jersey cows. The company also sources strawberries and hazelnuts from its own farms. He also sources the best Kensington Pride Australian mangoes for his mango sorbets and jams.

Black Sheep and Messina restaurants share a passion for food made from quality ingredients. They were both adamant that they would only make the ice cream locally from scratch and not import it from Australia as a frozen product. The only way to do this was to import the award-winning fresh milk from Messina to Hong Kong.

“The application process was rigorous and required us to meet strict quality control requirements from local authorities. But it was worth it in the end,” says Ravindran. “We are now able to serve our gelato made from scratch using the finest Australian Jersey milk available in this vibrant, sophisticated and food-loving city.”

Bringing Australian milk to Hong Kong

Bringing dairy products into Hong Kong is a challenge. Messina had to provide documents detailing its raw ingredients and manufacturing processes to the Center for Food Safety of the Department of Food and Environmental Hygiene in Hong Kong. Once the documents were validated, Messina had to send 6 samples to the food authority. Each sample had to be tested before the next could be sent.

Austrade’s business development manager in Hong Kong, Jennifer Kwong, has supported Messina throughout the 18-month journey, which has been slowed by COVID-19. The agency guided the company through the regulatory process and made sure the tests didn’t stall.

“Bringing Australian milk less than a week old to Hong Kong is a major achievement,” says Ravindran. “We cannot thank our local distribution partners at Nowaday International, the wider team at Austrade and, most importantly, Jennifer Kwong and Chief Trade and Investment Commissioner Shannon Powell for their tireless work. Thanks to Austrade for helping us understand and navigate the regulatory requirements.

Work with like-minded partners

Messina needed an import partner to ship its milk to Hong Kong. She wanted to work with a distributor who had experience with Australian brands and milk.

“Nowaday International has made it easy for us from a technical point of view,” says Ravindran. “They helped us prepare the necessary paperwork for the tests and understand some of the lesser-known aspects of the application process. They really helped our export team who worked tirelessly on this project throughout the process.”

Messina has also formed a relationship with Black Sheep restaurants. The famous group of hospitality teams is best known for its in-house restaurant concepts curated by founders Syed Asim Hussain and Christopher Marks. The founders had experienced Messina on previous trips to Australia.

“There are many similarities between Messina and Black Sheep restaurants,” says Ravindran. “We have the same approach to product quality, customer service and how we treat our customers and staff. We both believe that good food doesn’t come easily or quickly.

“In Messina, we felt confident that we could entrust the only brand we know and love to Black Sheep restaurants because of what we had experienced and seen on our own trips to Hong Kong in the past. The founders and their team are simply outstanding at what they do in every way.’

Obtaining visas for key personnel

Messina’s import application was approved in June 2021. The next challenge was to bring staff to Hong Kong. The Black Sheep restaurants had been granted a site on Pottinger Street, one of the city’s main streets. With the restrictions lifted, it was time to open the doors.

“Shannon was very helpful,” says Ravindran. “She provided a letter of support to the Home Office. This validated the 2 years of contact and exchanges we had with Austrade. He also pointed out that our opening was imminent, so securing travel exemptions to Australia for our staff was essential. Shannon and Jennifer were extremely helpful in navigating and supporting this process.

Powell also approached Hong Kong authorities to expedite visas for Messina 2 personnel. When borders were closed to international travel, Kwong inquired with Nowaday to see how testing was going. Powell also stayed in touch with Black Sheep restaurants.

“It was emotionally difficult to open our first store in Hong Kong without being able to get there ourselves,” says Ravindran. “However, it has given us enormous confidence to have two of our best people representing Messina at the highest level – and Austrade protecting us.”

40 ice cream flavors

Messina’s staff – the chefs who prepare the ice cream – arrived in Hong Kong in August. The store opened on October 1, 2021, offering its 40 signature flavors. In addition to Australian bestsellers, the company has partnered with chefs from Black Sheep restaurants to create flavors with local tastes such as milk tea, egg tart and tofu fa.

“It’s fantastic for customers to see our production process,” says Ravindran. “They can see Jersey milk being pasteurized and made into a fresh liquid mixture which is then frozen in batches and made into fresh gelato.”

Messina currently exports 500 kg of milk per week to Hong Kong. This is up from 300 kg per fortnight when the store opened.

“The store is doing exceptionally well,” says Ravindran. “The number of customers is increasing week by week. It’s great especially as Hong Kong is now in its cooler months. The in-store team also bakes our range of beautiful and intricate cakes on site. If this continues, we will have to increase the amount of milk we send.

Expansion on the horizon

Messina’s success in Hong Kong has already led to a commercial investigation in Thailand. The company is also interested in Japan, Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates. Austrade is also helping the company define import requirements in these markets.

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Go to Austrade Export Services to learn the basics, find the right markets and understand market requirements.

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