FOOD – How to reach the top in the good food business

26 April 2017

The mentors for SBN’s Good Food Boost are among some of the most successful foodies in the country. We took time out to get some advice from them.

The Good Food Boost, and SBN project in partnership with ATEED (Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development) is now in its third year. It is set to head to Wellington late this year. The competition awards four lucky early stage food businesses. They get the chance to be mentored by some of the best brains in New Zealand’s food sector.

Here are some of the pearls of wisdom they shared with this year’s winners, Ahi Kā Wellness Tonic, The Hungarian Artisan Co, The Green Kitchen, and Line’s Knækbrod.

Kim Evans, is founder of the Little and Friday family of cafes and food stores.

“The market is very saturated now,” she says. “When I started out six years ago there wasn’t much competition. Now there are a lot of businesses that are similar. This makes it a lot harder to start up now.

“The laws and by-laws that apply to food businesses are also a lot stricter now. The councils have upped the ante on health and safety.”

That said, there are signs that the work of pioneers like Kim is something new entrants into the sector can build on.

“When I started out people weren’t really using free range eggs in commercial outlets, for example. Now even McDonald’s are using them. So there have been changes in a positive direction.”

Little and Friday made the transition that many food businesses dream of. It began as a tiny café in a vacant butcher’s shop once a week. It now operates from three locations across Auckland running seven days. But Kim offers a word of caution.

“Growing bigger does not necessarily make you more profitable. It’s good to make sure you have your t’s crossed and you i’s dotted before you grow. Things like ACC suddenly seem to triple when you get more staff. There’s a lot of other stuff like insurance that you never really think about. When you have a food product you are only really thinking about making the product and creating the packaging. But there is a lot more involved in running a business around it.”

Martin Yeoman’s was a managing partner of influential marketing consultancy Assignment Group. He has now begun a new marketing venture, The Enthusiasts. He has brought his media savvy skills to the table for the Boost for the past three years.

“I am constantly amazed by the ambition, sacrifice and commitment these people are making to get these businesses up and running,” he says. “They are such personal stories.”

He was very clear on what food businesses need to line up to get their marketing right.

“It’s important that they begin as craftspeople with a real skill in producing a product,” he says. “Then the marketing can be added on. The most important thing is that they all know they need marketing. But it’s not generally a core skill set.

“They need to understand their story and how brand and communications can work for them. The best brands of today are ones that have come from people who are passionate about a product and have that craft and integrity in what they do. Marketing is simply amplifying that story to bring it to life.

“There’s no problem getting stories out there now. Social media has revolutionised that. There’s a hungry PR and editorial world always looking for stories. The issue is about distinctiveness. How do you create a product that is distinctive and fulfils an unmet need?”

Companies beginning from a sustainable standpoint have an advantage.

“They have well thought-through values, credentials and philosophies, so they are kind of on their way,” says Martin. “The big thing is often decision making. They have a lot of options and a lot of things they could do. It’s about distilling it down to the best option and sacrificing some of the other things.”

An appetite for hard work is a must. But even among the grafters there are those for whom it comes more naturally.

“There are some incredible people that you just know are going to be successful, whether with this product or the next.”

Ooooby founder Pete Russell was also impressed by our Boost mentees when he stepped up to assist. Pete has invested more than eight years in establishing the innovative Ooooby food sharing and distribution platform. This has provided him with unique insights into what it takes to disrupt the fundamentals of the food sector.

“In the food business you’ve got to get a few things right,” he explains. “You have to have a great product. Then you’ve got to get a story behind the product that connects with people. Then you have the technology. This is an important one. It is a constantly changing and evolving space. How someone presents themselves in the market in this digital age is always a challenge. Then you have the logistics of distribution. It’s about how to handle that so your costs don’t blow out and you have enough reach to achieve the goals you want to achieve.”

He is seeing the good food space continuing to develop and expand in New Zealand.

“More and more people are tuning in to good food and getting it into their heads that what you eat is a very important part of life,” he says. “That message is getting out there. It’s not just important for health, it’s important for social and ecological reasons as well.”

Rachel Brown, SBN CEO, says: “The Good Food Boost has become an amazing experience for all involved. It’s astounding to see some of the emerging businesses, and great that we can collectively support them on a stronger road to success.”

Next year the Good Food Boost will be based in Wellington. SBN is also working on another round in Auckland, with details to be confirmed. For more information on the Wellington Boost, contact Laurie Foon, SBN regional co-ordinator, at laurie@sustainable.org.nz