You want to know why it's so hard to crack the American market? Because America is about as foreign a market as you will ever find, made more elusive by the fact that everyone in the Western world thinks it isn't.

Which is why I and others weren't hugely surprised to read about the apparent failure of UK seafood stalwart Young's Seafood's expansion into the market.

A little-known nugget about my largely British life is that I once spent three months living in Texas, the Lone-Star State, the gun-toting capital of the world and the home of the most humongous portions and most mysterious obsession with beef I have ever seen.

I embarked on the trip thinking it would be an easy transition. Same language (sort of), similar culture, similar politics, music. It would just feel like a bigger, brasher version of home.


I have now spent many years living in Asia but have never felt quite as homesick and quite as foreign as I did those months living in the land of freedom and popcorn shrimp.

Because, while the challenges were subtle, they were integral to each and every part of my frigid British being.

The American culture is one of directness, of informality and of enthusiasm, while the UK, no matter how much we try to convince ourselves otherwise, is culturally still very rooted in formality, procedure, a "toned down" approach to enthusiasm, and an overwhelming need to bury your every important emotion under an itchy and burdensome blanket of humor or guitar riffs.

So when Young's tried to export a very British-style teatime staple, almost entirely unadjusted for the American market, it may as well have tried to stop the use of the exclamation mark.

Sure, the Americans love the Brits, but they love them in an "aren't they quaint and funny" kind of way. In a "love The Beatles" kind of way, rather than feeling a need to embrace all our homely cultural traditions.

America is one of the most cosmopolitan countries in the world, and it is built on internationalism, but it also has a firm and deeply-rooted craving to somehow "Americanize" everything.

But the products with which Young's entered were straight out of Grimsby, both literally and metaphorically.

They were designed to be very British products in terms of the species used, the format and the packaging. This was apparently something that Young's research had told it would be hugely attractive to the American public.

A little slice of British life to nibble on in front of Downton Abbey, if you will.

But no international product that I am aware of has broken into America without some form of adjustment.

Which is what makes Young's product launch of barely adjusted British products into the US market so jarring.

To succeed in America you have to make foreign food at retail just foreign enough to be different, but not different enough to be truly "foreign."

The product should have been Americanized. It could have used different species or different coatings or different packaging. Even a change up in font could have at least nudged consumers in the right direction.

But then that would just be a Gorton's breaded pollock fillet, I hear you cry. And that in fact, is probably the crux of the problem. Maybe British food is not really foreign enough to allow room for adjustment.

Young's felt like it was launching something different. But aside from slapping a "Made in Britain" flag on it, it essentially just shipped British settee staples straight into American megamalls and expected them to sell.

Could they have made a success of it? Perhaps, with the right marketing, the right research, the right demographic.

But I would say that the UK industry -- and the seafood industry at large -- should heed this lesson: New markets aren't a given. They take new tactics and different angles, and if you don't have the right product and the right marketing with which to do it, you may find yourself back at the drawing board with a lot of wasted time and money gnawing at your heels.