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Thursday 21 October 2021

Scale-up to kick off at Spring Sheep

14th September 2021 By Bridget O'Connell | | @foodtickernz

Spring Sheep Milk Co has got a new chief executive at the helm as it moves from start-up to scale-up which will see it embark on a major push into the lucrative China market and expand its product portfolio.

On 1 September the company officially announced co-founder Nick Hammond had moved from chief operating officer to chief executive, taking over from co-founder Scottie Chapman who was now in a part-time and advisor position.

Nick Hammond

Hammond told the Ticker the move had long been agreed and reflected the different leadership roles required at the advanced nutrition business, as a joint venture between state-owned Pāmu Farms, previously known as Landcorp, and Chapman’s food investment and advisory firm, SLC Ventures founded in 2015.

“Startup is its own game entirely,” Hammond said.

“Scottie and I worked incredibly effectively and closely right through that start-up phase and we are now looking to going the scale-up phase, which is quite a different part of our journey – it has a different series of challenges.

“[Now] it is about taking Spring Sheep global, and building the business through a rapid period of scale but doing so in a sustainable way.

Hammond said he sees the scale-up phase as broadly the next five years, over which time he says it is essential what will be a growing team stays aligned.

“One of the big challenges for me is making sure we maintain our culture – we’ve got an exceptional good culture within the Spring Sheep team and as we bring more people into the team I want to make sure the culture stays really strong and aligned.

“As you get bigger and the teams get more spread-out that gets more challenging, so making sure we keep that alive is important, particularly as we find we are getting so much world-class talent coming into Spring Sheep and having a good culture is really important.”

The team included chief financial officer James Horrocks, who joined in June from Google’s London office from his role as a senior financial analyst. It had also lured talent from traditional dairy rivals including chief marketing officer Andrea Wilkins, who jumped ship from a global marketing role at Fonterra to join the startup in 2015 when it had just one farm milking Spring Sheep’s own breed of Zealandia dairy sheep.

It now had 16 farmer suppliers and around 15,000 sheep supplying milk for its range of infant formula, milk powder and nutrition products. It forecasts this to hit 40,000 by 2025.

Milk supply constraint while it was building up sheep numbers saw the company enter the smaller South East Asian markets of Taiwan, Malaysia and Vietnam first, from 2016 through to 2020. With volume growing, it launched into China via cross border e-commerce at the end of last year and was now planning a big play for this market Hammond said.

“E-commerce was a starting point. We’ll be launching into retail in China in the next of months, we’ve got a distributor in China who [will get us into] supermarkets and mother and baby stores,” Hammond said.

The distributor would push its whole milk powder product, and Spring Sheep would look to build out what it called the family range by introducing a milk powder for younger children into China later this financial year, as well as “something in the mid-senior space,” Hammond said.

“It is a really interesting space in the market where there is a very wealthy group of consumers who are very health conscious and sheep milk is a fantastic product given its calcium, protein and high digestibility dynamics makes as a quite interesting consumer set for us to look at.”

Hammond said Spring Sheep had moved from contracting NPD to in-house formulation and product development included, which was now part of its 40-strong team across offices in Hamilton, Auckland and, as of last year, Shanghai.

Outside of NPD, the Spring Sheep team would also be working on developing the brand in market.

“There are little things in every market that are quite different – even things as simple as the colour scheme at the point of sale can have quite different meanings in different markets,” Hammond said.

“We found in Malaysia the pastel colour didn’t work for them because that signalled the product had been sitting in the sun and had faded, whereas at the time in New Zealand the pastel colours signalled premium.

“There is nuance to every market you go into, and every region of every market you go into, but we have sold out of everything we have ever produced.”



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