Pur­pose- led and and proud

TAU­RANGA-BASED HEILALA VANILLA IS A PURPOSEDRIVEN EX­PORTER IM­PACT­ING POS­I­TIVELY ON THE TON­GAN COM­MU­NITY.

NZ Business - - EXPORT { FEATURE} -

It all be­gan as an aid project in 2002. Re­tired dairy farmer John Ross had sailed his home­built yacht to the King­dom of Tonga where he planned to cel­e­brate his birth­day, have a fam­ily hol­i­day and in­dulge his pas­sion for spearfish­ing. Ross sub­se­quently fell in love with the place and its peo­ple. And such was the strength of his love that a year later, when a cy­clone ripped through Tonga’s Vava’u is­land group, he gath­ered a group of friends from the Pa­pakura Ro­tary Club and re­turned to help with the clean-up.

A plot of land was gifted to Ross by a lo­cal fam­ily as thanks, on the pro­viso he use it to gen­er­ate lo­cal em­ploy­ment.

Af­ter much re­search in coun­tries with a sim­i­lar cli­mate to Tonga, the de­ci­sion was made to plant vanilla.

Re­flect­ing on Heilala Vanila’s jour­ney there have been many mile­stones, says Jen­nifer Bog­giss, John’s daugh­ter and com­pany CEO – such as “launch­ing our first prod­ucts; win­ning nu­mer­ous lo­cal and ex­port awards, be­ing fea­tured at a store in the Tokyo post of­fice build­ing, and at Eleven Madi­son Park – the num­ber one restau­rant in the world in 2017.”

It has also been sat­is­fy­ing to see mem­bers of both the Ton­gan and New Zealand teams step up to more strate­gic roles in the com­pany.

2018 marks ten years since the Heilala Vanilla brand was es­tab­lished in New Zealand and the com­pany has just com­pleted a record 100 acres of vanilla plant­ing in Tonga to fu­ture-proof growth.

Much of Heilala Vanilla’s ex­port suc­cess can be at­trib­uted to its tri­par­tite model across three seg­ments – re­tail and di­rect-to-con­sumers, food ser­vice, and food man­u­fac­tur­ing. Each seg­ment re­in­forces the other; with high-end chefs in­flu­enc­ing high-end bak­ing con­nois­seurs and high con­sumer de­mand in­flu­enc­ing food man­u­fac­tur­ers’ choice of in­gre­di­ents.

“We typ­i­cally tar­get a ge­o­graph­i­cal area in ex­port mar­kets,” ex­plains Bog­giss. “For ex­am­ple, in the US, New York City has been the re­gion of fo­cus for the past 12 months.

“It takes pa­tience and at­ten­tion to tackle one area at a time – there is al­ways the lure and ex­cite­ment of new mar­kets. But over time we’ve learnt to in­vest our time re­source in spe­cific ar­eas to max­imise im­pact.”

Bog­giss ad­mits that op­er­at­ing out of both Tonga and Tau­ranga cre­ates lo­gis­ti­cal chal­lenges. Re­mote farms cou­pled with un­re­li­able In­ter­net and phone con­nec­tions means com­mu­ni­ca­tion can be dif­fi­cult. But she says they get around this by chan­nelling com­mu­ni­ca­tion through trust­wor­thy and re­spected peo­ple within plan­ta­tion com­mu­ni­ties.

Fair trade and sus­tain­abil­ity are cor­ner­stones of the busi­ness. “Right from in­cep­tion we’ve part­nered with com­mu­ni­ties and farm­ers as we strongly be­lieve that ‘one-plus-one equals three’. We ap­pre­ci­ate that we can both help each other to cre­ate a range of award-win­ning vanilla prod­ucts that will pos­i­tively im­pact the Tonga com­mu­ni­ties who grow the vanilla.”

Bog­giss says the goal is to bring a Ton­gan team to Tau­ranga each year, and vice versa, “to ap­pre­ci­ate and un­der­stand each other’s work­ing en­vi­ron­ment and unique cul­tures”.

“This en­sures full trans­parency across our sup­ply chain with all stake­hold­ers.”

She says the pop­u­lar­ity of Heilala Vanilla has grown with the world’s pas­try chefs and home bak­ers thanks to its uniquely pro­found flavour, eth­i­cal sourc­ing and or­ganic grow­ing prac­tices. Em­ploy­ment now spans a num­ber of com­mu­ni­ties – im­pact­ing the Ton­gan econ­omy, es­pe­cially through the com­pany’s fe­male em­ploy­ees.

“Be­ing an integral part of Heilala Vanilla gives our fe­male em­ploy­ees the con­fi­dence, knowl­edge and busi­ness skills to step up to more strate­gic roles,” says Bog­giss. “As a re­sult, there’s an in­stilled sense of pur­pose and pride which has a pow­er­ful ef­fect on their in­de­pen­dence, fam­i­lies, eco­nomic growth and the well­be­ing of their com­mu­ni­ties.

“All our de­ci­sions and strat­egy are led by our pur­pose, which is to ‘em­power women in agri­cul­tural com­mu­ni­ties so that their chil­dren have choices’. This pur­pose is in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant to our busi­ness and is our ‘north star’.”

Lift­ing your chances of suc­cess in world mar­kets re­quires sur­round­ing your­self with great peo­ple, says Bog­giss, plus a gov­ern­ing board with rel­e­vant ex­per­tise and a team will­ing to do what­ever it takes.

“Agility is im­por­tant to meet mar­ket trends and con­sumer de­mands. For us this has been in ar­eas of prod­uct in­no­va­tion, pack­ag­ing and mes­sag­ing.

“Con­sumers are de­mand­ing to know more about the in­gre­di­ents they’re con­sum­ing, and ex­actly what’s in their prod­uct, how it was sourced and pro­duced.”

The mar­ket op­por­tu­nity for F&B ex­porters is sig­nif­i­cant, Bog­giss adds, but re­quires a trans­par­ent sup­ply chain, clean la­bel in­gre­di­ents and so­cial im­pact sto­ries.

“The US is a key fo­cus go­ing for­ward, and with this growth we need to be man­ag­ing po­ten­tial sup­ply con­straints whilst our new plan­ta­tions are com­ing on stream.”

JEN­NIFER BOG­GISS

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