After successfully exporting to Australia, Kiwi icecream company OOB hasexpanded its horizon to Asia.
OOB has been exporting organic frozen berries and icecreams to Singapore for three years and, more recently, has found distributors in Malaysia and China.
Co-founder of OOB Robert Auton said Singapore has been a gateway into Asia.
“Singapore is a food hub and the other countries get inspired by what they see there. It’s quite good to have products on shelf there because it’s seen by other markets,” Auton said.
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He said New Zealand’s reputation of high food standards also makes kiwi firms attractive to do business with for Asian distributors.
Auton and co-founder Shannon Auton established OOB over a decade ago, in an orchard near Omaha, Northland. Starting with organic blueberries, they gradually expanded into mixed berries and a range of organic ice cream.
OOB has been exporting to Australia since 2012, partnering with supermarket distributors Coles and Woolworths.
Auton said Asia is an interesting region to grow business due to its sheer numbers.
“When you’re looking at products that are premium you’ve got a very limited market domestically. Asia is a bigger market and we need to look at larger markets to make it worthwhile from a manufacturing perspective,” he said.
“But it’s just baby steps at this time, because we’re only a small company.”
Despite having a year long supply of fresh fruit, Auton said frozen fruit has been surprisingly growing in popularity in Malaysia.
“They seem to like the convenience or the organic status of these frozen products.”
OOB’s revenue for the past year was over $17 million.
Distributors in Singapore and Malaysia receive two to four containers of product each year and this is forecast to grow to about eight containers per year.
Auton said while Singapore and Malaysia have been relatively easy markets to get into, China has been the most challenging with a lot of competition and rigid compliance regulations.
As a result OOB has solely been exporting ice cream to China.
Although OOB is looking to develop a stronger foothold in its current Asian markets, Thailand and Indonesia are being considered as potential future markets.
As it grows its Asian distribution, Auton said OOB will also be establishing e-commerce channels and using social media to engage with customers strongly influenced by the platforms in Asia.
His advice to other Kiwi businesses embarking on breaking into Asia is to play it safe.
“Don’t try and beat your own path. Maybe follow where others have gone before you, at least in terms of distributors that are maybe selling similar products.
“There’s a lot of tyre-kickers coming out of Asia. Do everything by the book.”
He said businesses should aim to create a sustainable, long term strategy and build relationships.