The Fast 50 foodies: Feeding New Zealand’s tasty obsession
In a perfect encapsulation of society's relationship with dining, food writer Mary Francis Kennedy Fisher once remarked, “first we eat, then we do everything else.” That order of precedence is reflected in this country’s love of food and the booming industry that nourishes it, now employing nearly one in five New Zealanders and earning over half of our merchandise export earnings.
This year's Fast 50 programme features three companies carving their own niche in the market, each with their own unique story. Not only do they have the Deloitte Fast 50 programme in common, they were also created with a passion for positive nutrition.
Managing Director, Richard Plimmons, set up his company Tom & Luke out of curiousity. After a fitness session with his trainer, Tom Dorman, Dorman mentioned he’d been making snack bars with his friend and chef, Luke Cooper. Plimmons went to try them out and was hooked, offering up some factory space he had available.
Tom & Luke has since become renowned for their ‘Snackaballs’, high-fibre and high-protein snacks which sit near the confectionary shelves in supermarkets. These snacks aren't just for the fitness fanatics though; Plimmons had a very specific customer in mind, saying:
“I wasn’t interested in the 1% of the population that can afford to pay $10 for a small pack of snacks - I wanted to get the mainstream market, people who are eating Moro bars and Cadburys at picnics. I want to make a product cheap enough for people to buy every day.”
Professional athlete and Ready to Eat CEO Hamish Coulter also had a specific customer in mind when he started manufacturing pre-made meals. Understanding the importance of nutrition for sporting performance, he wanted to find a way to make it easy. What surprised him was how many people beyond the bench press signed up to the meal subscriptions.
“We started by focusing mainly on athletes who were really keen on sports performance and hardcore weight loss. Working on a small budget, we wanted to test the waters to see how it would go, but we had so much demand from people who really focused on the convenience side, wanting the health aspect and dishes that were a little less strict.”
Responding to the market has served Coulter well as a result, along with harnessing a significant social media following and brand ambassadors that share his message of balance and convenience.
For Tesh Randall, she started Raglan Coconut Yoghurt with her best brand ambassador already by her side – her partner, Seb Walter. Trying to find a solution for Walter’s lactose intolerance, Randall started to create yoghurt using coconut cream instead of dairy products. After making a few extra, she handed them out to Raglan locals and found demand outstripped supply.
Now, Randall says the business has expanded beyond her home kitchen in Raglan: “We're nationwide in over 500 stores and are shipping some overseas to Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia.”
The business is highly environmentally conscious too, with Randall and Walter’s personal values coinciding with a much-needed increase in global awareness. Raglan Coconut Yoghurt organises projects around building beehives, tree planting and beach clean-ups to engage their customers.
They also happen to be tapping into one of the biggest trends of the moment – veganism. It’s a trend that Plimmer has seen in promoting Tom & Luke, calling it "absolutely massive." He attributes this shift to veganism to two reasons:
“One, people want to eat healthily, and two, they're also aware of trying to save the planet. Looking at the amount of resources that it takes to grow meat versus plant protein, plant protein has a lot less impact on our environment.”
Coulter’s research for Ready to Eat has helped him identify the other big trend when it comes to New Zealand’s change in eating habits – the high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet, keto. However, as much as diets come and go, he recognises that balancing a good eating plan takes work, saying:
“I think there has to be a balance with making sure that all the other aspects of your life can work within your eating plan. You have to have some flexibility and I think food at its core should be something that's enjoyed, and enjoyed with people. If you're too restrictive on your diet, it makes it hard to live a balanced life.”
Randall agrees – her product offers options for those on specific diets but appeals to all approaches to food.
“We have a lot of customers who are paleo, or FODMAP, or keto, and they're all good in that they all recommend cutting out processed food and eating more whole food, but I don't think it needs to be complicated - I think if you avoid processed food and have lots of fruit and vegetables, it should be hard to get nutrition wrong.”
For these three businesses, their passion for their product and their personal goals have coincided to create successful brands at a time when many Kiwis are making a conscious move to alter their daily eating habits. With formidable growth under their belt already, Ready to Eat, Tom & Luke and Raglan Coconut Yoghurt are showing their work as integral parts of the New Zealand food industry.
Jen Scouler works in the Deloitte clients & marketing team across digital content and social media. She also works closely with Deloitte Private.