Foodie mums take slice of pie market

Absence makes the heart grow fonder. And the stomach. Maree Glading and Jessie Stanley returned to New Zealand from their big OE in the UK hankering for a good Kiwi steak and cheese pie.

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To their horror, they couldn't find one that met their expectations.

"We decided we would only put into our product what we would give our children."
Maree Glading, Founder of I Love Pies

“We bought a pie to satisfy our craving and were disappointed with the quality," Glading says.

The solution? Bake it yourself. The consummate version of what they thought a good pie should be.

And so the 'I Love Pies' brand was born.

With both Glading and Stanley being passionate cooks, the vision from the start was to use only top-quality, wholesome ingredients – sour cream in the pastry, free-range eggs, no palm oil, no artificial colours or preservatives.

“We decided we would only put into our product what we would give our children," Glading says.

The first sales foray involved taking 100 handmade pies to the Clevedon Village Farmers Market, near Auckland.The pies were snapped up within an hour, an auspicious start for a business that was profitable in its first year.

Seven years later, sales have grown over 700 per cent with the annual total retail value of their pies sitting around NZ$6 million.

'I Love Pies' are now sold in more than 300 stores around New Zealand and late last year the company started exporting to Hong Kong.

This year they aim to tackle the Aussie market - where the denizens have their own ideas about what makes a proper pie.

Jessie says the launch of their company coincided with the movement towards gourmet food – with MasterChef on air and the emergence of specialty food companies.

On the downside, the start-up of their business also collided with the global financial crisis.

“We were turning on the television and looking at all the news on the recession and wondering about how crazy it was – starting a business given the economic environment. We were also both thinking about starting families at the time," Stanley says.

She emphasises one of the most important business decisions they followed from the initial stage was to seek sound advice. As a start-up business customer at ANZ, Jessie and Maree were put in touch with their local Business Banking Manager, Brodie Caldwell.

Caldwell conducted a thorough review which helped to define their financial situation and goals. From this, they were able to expand their working capital, which was key to helping the business grow.

Stanley says being a start-up business is tough. One of the key challenges was to not bite off more than they could chew. Sometimes it was important to just step back and focus on the big issues.

“You can't imagine what you have to learn when growing a business," she says. "You have to learn when to ask for help from the experts. You have to learn ways to conduct yourself, how to tap into parts of your brain; how to trust your sense or gut feel, to know which levers to pull."

In the early days, decisions were around choosing manufacturing premises, establishing the brand and finding customers.

Stanley and Glading had initially met when they were colleagues at UK food manufacturing company BritVic and the experience there gave them a deeper understanding of commercial food production, as well as the importance of the cross-pollination of ideas and of innovation.

The pair invested NZ$3,000 as start-up capital and scouted around for a commercial bakery which already had all the equipment they needed to make their pies.

“We researched different bakeries, and visited lots. Eventually, we found someone who let us use space in the bakery for six months," Glading says.

They wrote down what they wanted the company to represent: “real food, for real people", and then set out to walk, talk, and live the “I Love Pies" vision. They tested the price point for their product at the Clevedon Village Farmers Market.

“We couldn't afford to be disengaged from our customers, ever," stresses Glading.

Even a traditional business like pie making has a digital dimension. As "I Love Pies" grew, they chose to adopt wireless technologies as much as possible and keep marketing costs low. They are still based in the bakery where they started seven years ago but have also expanded to new premises.

From day one, the partners leveraged the power of social media, gathering 10,000 pie zealot 'likes' on Facebook. They eased into Instagram easily but also went to local markets to meet customers.

As they moved into international markets, Stanley says one of the key pieces of help their banker gave them was unravelling the intricacies of managing foreign exchange.

“Brodie has helped us understand currencies and how it all works," says Stanley. "The bank has a lot of knowledge around food and beverage businesses and knows how to support the sector."

The pair still love pies but they also love being in the pie business.

“Owning a small business is so dynamic," Stanley says. “There are ups and downs in taking your idea and developing it into a real, growing business but we love it."

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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