The trip, entitled the 'Magical Sensory Tour,' involves Danish ingredients giant Chr Hansen sending a team of employees through nine Eastern European countries, including Ukraine, Romania and Croatia, using a 50 square metre mobile show room in order to gain access and share knowledge with as wide a range of people as possible.
The tour kicked off in Prague last week, and is due to finish in Poland on 19th April.
"This is exciting, as we can go wherever we want really," Chr Hansen communications executive Ole Lindhardt told Anthony Fletcher. "Just before we get to Warsaw there is dairy convention, and we were able to include that in our itinerary."
EU enlargement has certainly made issues such as border crossings easier, though the logistics of organising such a trip are still significant enough to cause a headache. "We have to take photos of everything on board to assure customs that everything on the bus leaves with us again," said Lindhardt. "And here in Prague, we've just discovered that we don't have sufficient electricity."
So why would a company with a global reputation and a marketing budget like Chr Hansen choose to negotiate such difficulties? The team in Prague firmly believes that by coming into the country itself and in effect opening up its doors, the company can speak directly to people that would not normally be reached via conventional marketing means.
"We can speak to CEOs from Copenhagen, but what about those in the level below, in R&D?" asks Lindhardt. "We want to get closer to the markets, and closer to what is happening in the organisations of our customers."
Chr Hansen project manager Ann Charlotte Bentzon agrees. "It took some persuading that this would be good PR but we felt it would be the best way of inviting customers into our world," she said. "We can also learn about each individual market. We asked each country manager what they would prioritise in their respective countries, and as a result, the tour presentations differ slightly from country to country."
Chr Hansen is clearly tapping into a growing trend. Show technician Peder Pedersen, who has been operating corporate road shows for over ten years, says that in the last five years his activity in Eastern Europe has been intense.
"All the big companies need new markets, and the big emerging market is out here," he said. All the big companies are doing this, coming out and seeing the market first-hand."
The purpose of the tour is also to dig up potential. As a global ingredients company, Chr Hansen needs to be at the cutting edge of consumer trends and tastes, and also has to be unusually sensitive to national, and even regional, differences.
"Although some trends are similar to those in the west, there are still differences," said Bentzon. "There is a different pattern of living. For example, kefir grains have been used for years in Eastern Europe as a yeast flavouring in dairy products. We have developed a new process that eliminates the risk of contamination. So it is important to find out what your customer needs, and then try and improve methods of production."
Anne Sondergaard, a fermented milk specialist at Chr Hansen, explains that using kefir grains can be time consuming and the results are often inconsistent. "Kefir grains are like little sponges that contain yeast," she explains in her demonstration on the tour bus. "Traditionally it takes two to three days to make a propagation, and there is a risk that you might have to discard a whole batch if wild yeast takes over."
Chr Hansen's solution on the other hand offers more consistency, stability and longer shelf life, and propagation takes just 10 to 15 hours. "It means you just take the culture and put it in the tank," she said. "This product will be sold in other markets as well, but we are targeting Eastern Europe as this is traditional yeast flavouring in the region. In other words, we're trying to convert make the traditional production of a regional product easier."
In addition, Sondergaard feels that awareness of probiotics within Eastern Europe remains low, thus presenting a significant opportunity for the company to capitalise on an under-exploited market. "You don't find many of these products on the shelf, but this is slowly changing," she said.
"There are so many dairy products here, and a firm can easily make a probiotic market by adding one of our clinically documented strains. This would enable them to distinguish themselves from other products on the market."
The Chr Hansen tour bus also contains demonstrations on new colouring and flavouring additives for confectionery and meat products, and is currently making its way to Romania.
"I feel fantastic that the trip is underway," said Bentzon. "I foresee problems, and it won't be the same situation everywhere, but that means it will be a new experience for us in every country. But we're good at working together, and we'll succeed."