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Delicious by design: Kiwi kai making waves at home and abroad

The Kiwi kai leading by design

Does food taste better and sell more when it looks good? Vincent Heeringa eats in search of the design premium.

There’s a lot of great Kiwi beer to get through in one lifetime. And, I promise, I’m doing my best. But then there’s lots of good wine, too. And those mint new vodkas. And gourmet chocolate. And salami and cheeses and yoghurt, honey, jams,chutneys, vinegars, barn-raised, corn-fed chicken, free-range happy pork, smoked streaky bacon, alpine salmon and, of course, sausages – lots of gourmet sausages.

Collective DairyThese days, home-grown, hand-reared deliciousness is everywhere. We are indeed becoming the delicatessen of the South Pacific,and the artisan and gourmet food market is exploding.

Greig Buckley, founder of Kai, the artisan sales network, says the number of producers has tripled in the last decade. He estimates artisan and specialist food accounts for about eight percent of the market. In the US and UK it’s even bigger, up to 14 percent, and it’s growing at three times the rate of the grocery trade.

The growth is exciting for our independent producers but a man has only so many stomachs. And only one wallet. With all this competition, how can the manufacturer best force his way in? It used to be that being ‘freerange’ or ‘hand-made’ was enough to get above the foodie fray. But with so much out there, in the language of poker, these attributes have become mere ‘table stakes’.

One answer: design. Inspired by, or perhaps in competition to, the likes of 42 Below vodka and Charlie’s juice, a group of design-led brands are emerging, brands that rely as much on their design IP as the quality of their products. That’s not to say they’re bad products, but good isn’t good enough, especially for those aspiring to export.

To be noticed, these brands need to take onthe big boys of marketing and win. Geoff Ross,founder of 42 Below, has some simple advice: “Don’t look like you are designed by a retired Motueka art teacher. Make sure you look like you would be at home on the back bar in the very best restaurants and bars in London and New York. Your story can be local and artisan. But your design needs to be at home in an international environment.”

Ross is taking his own medicine with Moa beer. The craft brewery was founded in 2003 by Josh Scott, son of the Marlborough wine pioneer Alan Scott and by Dave Nichol, one of only three master brewers in New Zealand. The beer has won multiple awards, including bronze this year at the prestigious Brewing Industry International Awards. Its pedigree as a craft beer can’t be faulted.

But pedigree forms only a minor part of the new brand. Following the investment by Ross and his former 42 Below mates from The Bakery, Moa has been given a design and marketing overhaul. Out with the scrolling fonts and brown packaging. Gone are the pages devoted to brewers’ notes and pictures of hops and kettles on the website. The new website shows Josh, a bona fide athlete, sprinting out of an explosion sporting a bandana and scimitar. More Rambo than radler.  The packaging, too, is quirky, making leaps from old chaps on motorbikes to 18th century wrestlers and 1970s weightlifters. The linking theme: the Moa hunters, men of fierce and robust curiosity.

Branding is key for these Kiwi productsMoa’s packaging features old chaps on motorbikes, athletes and hard-hat divers, to tap into the theme of Moa hunters: men of fierce and robust curiosity. Meanwhile, wine brand Supernatural has featured in an exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and Bloomsbury’s cheeky chocolate – with its witty product lines – is a hit overseas. PHOTOS: Charlie McKay

The company is pulling marketing stunts reminiscent of 42 Below. When the director general of Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne sent a letter requesting all references to champagne be removed from Moa’s website, the company replied with a postcard of the sunken Rainbow Warrior on one side and “f**k off” in Maori on the other.

The brand scored a coup when it replaced Steinlager as the official beer of the Olympic team. Many thought it a joke at first, but the deal means the globally recognised rings appear on all packaging and advertising and the beer is served at numerous functions, including the Prime Minister’s gala dinner.


Moa’s cheeky approach is far removed from the seriousness that usually surrounds artisan products. But then, Moa is determined not to be the best kept secret in town.

“We want everyone to talk about us,” says marketing manager Sunil Unka.

“We want to be contemporary but not boutique, be traditional but not boring.”

Humour is clearly the strategy of Bloomsberry chocolate, the Kiwi brand that’s now sold in the US, UK, Europe and Asia. With names such as Girth Control and Dechox, the brand has sniggered its way into mainstream shops such as Tesco and Meijer (Germany). Again, the chocolate tastes great, made with
premium ingredients to a craft-style quality. The company has just launched a new brand, Frnmark, combining British-made chocolate with New Zealand manuka honey.

The Great Dairy Collective is also winning hearts and wallets with its lovable cow-shaped logo and child-like fonts. Co-founder Angus Allen says while the yoghurt claims to be the best of its kind, the brand is equally important.

“It’s a package. Success starts with the product. It has to be great, no question, but then you have to have a brand that appeals to the mainstream and can maintain a premium price,” he says. “Once those two are in place, it all comes down to distribution.”


It’s clearly working. The Collective is now the number one gourmet yoghurt brand in New Zealand, up against established brands like DeWinkel and products by big brother Fonterra Brands. When the company recently signed a joint venture to launch in the UK, Allen says the brand was a driving motivation for the deal. The company sold a combination of recipe and brand rights for a 50 percent share in the European market.

“I was in the UK for the launch in the first Sainsbury store and I tell you, people were queuing for it,” Allen says. “They loved it, loved the taste, loved the packaging and humour.

“The store manager said it was the best launch he’d been involved in. Overall in the UK we sold 50,000 pots in two weeks.”

The Collective is expecting to repeat that success in US later this year and then Asia.

The Great Dairy Collective is milking it with design-led packaging; J.Friend and Co’s jars hark back to the pastThe Great Dairy Collective is milking it with design-led packaging; J.Friend and Co’s jars hark back to the past.

This global ambition sets these ‘new artisans’ apart from the rest. Angus Allen says that when he started with business partner, Olaf Shenhav, they were hoping to reach about $30 million in turnover. After just three years they’re already at $9 million.

“Frankly with the interest we’re seeing globally, I reckon $300 million is a better target.”

Moa is thinking big in the US, where the craft beer market accounts for nearly 15 percent of the market.

“But it’s the speed of that growth that’s interesting,” says Sunil Unka.

In developed markets craft beer is experiencing double-digit growth compared to the beer in general, which is either flat or declining. Overall, Kiwi exports of boutique alcohol grew a spectacular 28 percent in the last year $52 million. Volumes shipped rose 32 percent.

Greig Buckely, of Kai, says the ambition is impressive but comes with a challenge: “How do you grow and retain those artisan values of hand- made, small scale, locally sourced and so on? You know, a lot of artisans will say you’ve sold out once you’re available in supermarkets – but of course, that’s where the volume is.”

Something’s got to give.

“There are three ways for artisans to grow,” Buckley says. “You can replicate the factory in other markets but that’s very expensive and you lose the provenance and local ingredients.

“You can license the recipe and the brand, but you face the same problems and also lose connection with the personalities behind the brand. Or you can supply the market by building a bigger plant – but again, it’s expensive and you start to bump into the problem of retaining the hand-made versus commercial production.”

Probably the answer is to blur the lines.

“By the time these brands are at getting commercial volumes they’re specialty foods, not artisan. But that’s fine. They’re still high-quality, they’re still niche. And let’s face it, what the Americans would classifiy as niche and specialty by New Zealand standards would be about the size of Fonterra.

“There’s room for growth!”

The Artisan Food Pyramid

The artisan food pyramid
Brands such as Moa and the Great Dairy Collective are breaking the unspoken rules of artisan producers, pushing down the food pyramid into
the FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) markets.

“When does artisan stop being artisan?” asks artisan specialist Greig Buckley. “It’s a grey area, but one of the characteristics is that they’re typically hard to find.

“When you find it in the end of aisle display in the supermarket, then connoisseurs say you’ve sold out.”

But then who said great products and design should be hard to find?

Ones to watch

Originally published in Idealog #35, page 48

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