Conscious consumption: Kiwis heat up the food scene

Blue Frog Breakfast’s founder Scotty Baragwanath’s moniker stems from when he was a tadpole.

“Frog was my nickname as a child and ‘blue’ is about being unique and memorable. Frogs are normally green, so a blue frog would be pretty special,” he tells bluenotes.

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Pic: Blue Frog Breakfast's cacao cereal Source: provided

“That’s what we’re about - creating something unique and truly celebrating individuality. We want to bring joy to people’s lives with a breakfast that’s worth waking up for.”

"We are staunchly Kiwi and have products that reflect that.” - Baragwanath

From cereal to soda pop, New Zealand is building a global reputation for premium comestibles.

Food and beverage is big business for New Zealand; exports are worth $NZ29 billion and account for 43 per cent of total exports.

When it comes to emerging opportunities, Blue Frog Breakfast and Wellington’s Six Barrel Soda – made from natural ingredients and organic sugar cane - are right in the sweet spot.

They are among parts of the industry highlighted as trending upwards in the recently released Emerging Growth Opportunities in New Zealand Food & Beverage Report.

Cherries, chocolate bars, infant formula, honey, dog and cat food, chilled salmon, breakfast cereal and muesli bars and flavoured beverages were the best-performing categories in the report, all gaining a significant price premium over the world price.

Honey for example achieving 707 per cent over the world price, breakfast cereal achieves 140 per cent more and beverages 103 per cent more.

Authored by research consulting company Coriolis, director Tim Morris said the report showed the changing face of the food and beverage industry.

“New Zealand’s food industry is getting more and more complex and that is a good thing. That is how you add value.”

In 2015, Blue Frog’s Braragwanath set out to create the world’s best tasting and most nutritious breakfast cereal. 

“We want to create memories and those moments of joy.  Moments that make you go ‘Wow! I just had the most amazing breakfast!’ It’s an audacious goal, but we’re on our way to making that happen,” he says.

Three years into their crusade to take breakfast beyond - well, breakfast - that audacious goal is paying off. 

Blue Frog is New Zealand’s most highly awarded breakfast brand and creating world first product innovations. 

“We made the conscious decision to really focus on what matters. For us that’s incredible flavour, colour and texture, and using the best ingredients out there.

“We’re doing things our way, all the while forming collaborative relationships with likeminded companies,” says Baragwanath.

After first testing their product at a farmers market in 2015, Blue Frog quickly launched a range of cereals, selling them through specialty and health food stores before entering the New World supermarket chain in 2016.

Baragwanath says they started sending small amounts to Singapore last year. “This month we are sending Blue Frog to Hong Kong and in the next few weeks to Australia as well.”

While there is still a huge amount to do in New Zealand, Baragwanath says now is a good time to dip a toe into international markets and start to understand what consumers are looking for.

“Amazon is another one we are looking at. Our product is perfectly designed for e-commerce, being light and easily shipped with a good shelf life.”

Going global

Blue Frog saw a big opportunity with the emerging demand for gluten and grain-free alternatives. Their products are all vegan, use only natural and organic ingredients, with various gluten free and paleo options.

Blue Frog is also a proud supporter of other local New Zealand producers.  “We are staunchly Kiwi and have products that reflect that,” Baragwanath explains.

“Kaipara Kumara was our first cereal and we won a food award. Kumara is such distinctly Kiwi produce and works incredibly well in a cereal with mixed spices and maple syrup. 

“We proudly source the oats for our Probiotic Porridge from Canterbury - they’re really the best you’d get anywhere in the world. Our Probiotic Porridge is actually a world first - and we’re stoked it’s made with those superb Canterbury oats.”

That authentic New Zealand story is playing an important role as they grow and enter new markets.

A recent trip to the Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, California – the world’s biggest whole foods conference – showed first-hand how well placed New Zealand is to make the most of what’s hot when it comes to consumer food trends.

Baragwanath explains that New Zealand is definitely well ahead of the curve when it comes to innovation in key topical areas, being gut health, convenience, wholefood and functional drinks.

“New Zealanders in general are highly innovative - we see the trends, we work smart and do things cost-effectively because we are small and we have to. We create world class and world leading products and are ready to share these with the world,” he says.

Taking it to the big guys

Six Barrel Soda Co is another company shaking up the local food and beverage scene. The syrups and bottled soda business was set up in 2012 by Joseph Slater and Mike Stewart. 

Made with natural ingredients and sweetened with Fairtrade organic cane sugar, their products are a very different offering to big players like Coca Cola.

Slater credits much of their success to local support for independent businesses.

“There is a lot of support here from consumers for more boutique products; you don’t have to be a monster company to get any traction.”

But the journey hasn’t come without challenges.

Slater explains the difficult thing with the market in New Zealand is the size. “When you create a relatively niche product with a higher price point you are attracting quite a niche consumer. But certainly you can reach a decent level in New Zealand as a food and beverage producer if you play your cards right and find a good market.”

Slater says they found their market fairly quickly, sometimes struggling to meet demand. 

“In some ways we’ve been lucky not to have insanely viral products, in the early days our growth was something we weren’t quite ready for but we managed to keep on top of it and now we are at a point where we are very scalable,” he says..

“We’ve just moved into a new production facility and use contract bottlers for our bottling, part of that was set up so that if opportunities come along that triple our business we can do that.”

Getting Six Barrel Soda products into New World supermarket and Z Energy petrol stations was another big milestone for the business.

“Z Energy has been great for exposure and it’s been great to see we can compete at a more mainstream level. That was really an approach for us to take it to the big guys in the places they traditionally operate.”

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Pic: Six Barrel Soda’s Joseph Slater Source: provided

While the local market is important, Slater says future growth will come from export.

“Export is about 10 per cent of our business right now, Australia is the only market we currently export to but we are working on partnerships in East Asia and the Middle East.”

Emerging opportunities

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Food HQ Chief Executive Dr Abby Thompson argues the New Zealand economy was built on producing and exporting food and beverage products.

“We know international markets demands are changing, and it is important to identify areas that have the potential to further grow our exports in the coming years,” she says.

“The report has identified areas where we take advantage of our reputation for high-quality produce, our culture of innovation in food, and our geographic location, which lets us supply out of season products to the northern hemisphere.”

Thompson says it highlights potential strategic directions for New Zealand’s food and beverage industries, and opportunities for further investment.

A challenge the food and beverage sector is ready to meet.

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Meeting the challenges

ANZ’s Head of Food & Beverage NZ, Rob Simcic says innovation is alive and well in the sector and the Coriolis report has pinpointed some of the emerging growth opportunities and identifying areas where New Zealand is getting some good wins.

“The biggest opportunity for our food and beverage sector lies in our ability to leverage our points of difference as a nation – our unique environment and natural resources, and our people with such diversity of culture, skills and ideas. 

“It is these points of difference that can and are being successfully harnessed in a range of ways by leading food producers across New Zealand, meeting demand from discerning consumers around the world.”

The challenge for the sector, Simcic says, will be working together for success – collaboration between people, business, regions and the wider sector as a whole.

“We’re a small country targeting a diverse array of (mostly far off) global markets, all of which present different challenges.

“While the domestic market provides a great starting point, testing ground and moderately sized market for most kiwi food producers, export markets present the only seriously scale-able opportunity.”

Briar McCormack is New Zealand editor at bluenotes

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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