7th September 2021 By Monique Steele | email@example.com | @foodtickernz
A trend for housebound consumers around the globe to get into baking has provided a boost for vanilla bean exporter Heilala Vanilla, although the pandemic has also tested the resilience of the business.
The Tauranga-based company started exporting Tongan-sourced vanilla bean, extract and other products 19 years ago and now ships to eight international markets with the largest markets in the United States and Australia. It has been stocked in New Zealand supermarkets since 2011.
Pre-Covid, sales were equally split across retail, foodservice and food manufacturers. The business took a hit with the closure of foodservice during lockdowns, but saw supermarket and digital sales shoot from around 30% of the business to 80% now, director and co-founder Jennifer Boggiss said.
“We thought we were going to be a third down, but it transpired that we ended up being a third up because of our home-bakers around the world baking with vanilla,” she told the Ticker.
“It more than made up [for the loss]. It put us in a really good position.
“The category grew hugely over Covid and we were able to grow with the category both within retail FMCG and also digital channels.”
As retail demand increased, the company made a handful of hires to build a global e-commerce platform and also added an FMCG key accounts sales position across Australasia. It now employed 22 people in New Zealand.
“In the US, we were on Amazon and now we’ve built that out to our own D2C channel in the US, New Zealand, Australia, the UK and the European Union.”
However, with Covid has come a congested global supply chain which has seen increased costs to freight transport and warehousing for Heilala.
“You’re not getting that same frequency of shipments and product into markets, so we just have to hold a lot more stock in-market. Because [of this] your warehousing costs go up. It is quite challenging in terms of managing all those costs,” Boggiss said.
She said while sea freight was “the ideal”, the company was using air freight to transport around half its vanilla exports to ensure it got to its overseas markets.
The company was founded by Boggis’ father John Ross in 2002 as an aid project to help rebuild Tonga’s vanilla industry for communities on the island of Vava’u following the destruction wrought by Cyclone Waka.
The business both managed crops and bought vanilla from around 250 local smallholder farmers in Tonga, who provided around 70% of Heilala Vanilla’s supply. Boggiss hoped to increase the number of smallholder farmers to 500 by 2025.
Madagascar holds the majority of the vanilla market globally and vanilla prices were currently sitting at around US$250/kg, Boggiss said.
This week, Heilala Vanilla was named a finalist in the New Zealand International Business Awards, held by New Zealand Trade and Enterprise.
The business was shortlisted in the Excellence in Sustainability category and Boggiss was nominated a finalist for Inspiring Women Leaders.
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