Lewis Road: Building on success at home

Peter Cullinane

Lewis Road Creamery chief executive

It’s possibly a bit rich for me to be writing a ‘View from The Top’ for the Dairy Exporter. Lewis Road Creamery is still at best a little hillock rather than a mountain, so my view is very much upwards and outwards. Why outwards? Because the first five years of our existence have been very much focused on the New Zealand market. As yet, we export nothing. But now it’s time.

But I hope that is about to change. I hope if I’m asked for my view in five years’ time, I’ll be able to look from somewhat loftier heights with a more ‘worldly’ vision.

When I started Lewis Road Creamery, I had a very singular focus and that was to create dairy products NZ could be proud of. That’s not to say that NZ wasn’t already producing world-beating products. We were, and are, but they are too often, in my view, commodity products that others add value to.

I thought we needed to produce products that at an individual level, at a finished packaged level represented our very best. Back just five years ago, it was largely held that NZ couldn’t compete with finished branded products, ones that would compete on a supermarket shelf in any key market around the world.

The ‘wisdom’ was that building branded products was best left to other companies in other countries. We should stick to our commodity knitting with volume over value.

Yes, companies like Nestle have had a head start – they’ve been going more than 100 years. But the rules have changed beyond recognition with the advent of the internet and the growth of social media which it has spawned.

I thought that thinking was wrong then and wrong now. Look at Nestle, a massive global brand company. What’s so special about Nestle that they can do what we can’t? Switzerland’s population isn’t much greater than ours and we certainly produce more of the raw ingredients that should be going into finished branded products.

Yes, companies like Nestle have had a head start – they’ve been going more than 100 years. But the rules have changed beyond recognition with the advent of the internet and the growth of social media which it has spawned. It’s now possible to make up those 100 years in nano-seconds. In fact, being a new entrant is an advantage. There’s no baggage.

And from the very beginning, I also believed the future for NZ brands had to be built on success at home. Ever since the first shipment of mutton and butter on the SS Dunedin in 1882, we Kiwis have rushed to export as the solution and have paid too little attention, I believe, to our domestic consumer. I really do believe that to be successful abroad, you need to be successful at home first.

By some measures, and if you’re inclined to be kind, I believe we can call Lewis Road Creamery successful. We have strong positions in milks, butters, and ice cream – quintessential dairy products. So, while there’s still much to do in the local market, I believe we have earned the right to look offshore and see if we can carve out a position in Australia, Asia (in all its vast diversity), the United States and, a market dear to my heart, the United Kingdom. Why the UK? Because NZ has a storied history as a provider of dairy to that market and I would love to see us pick up where we left off.

Can we do it? Has A2 Corporation done it? The answer has to be yes. Yes we can if we put in the smarts, the effort and the resources required to do it well to work. I do not believe the task is herculean nor do I believe the resources required are too daunting. Social media has changed the playing field beyond all recognition. Not only is it approximately level but there are parts of the field where being small, nimble and focused on quality branded finished goods puts us at an advantage.

Or so I believe. Talk is cheap of course and the proof is in the pudding. Hopefully, I’ll have something to show if I’m invited back for a comment or two in five years’ time.

In the meantime, can I take this opportunity to thank everyone in the dairy industry who has supported and encouraged us. And that’s pretty well everyone. NZ dairy is co-operative by nature. Let’s turn that co-operation into successes for all the new dairy company entrants that I’m sure we’re going to see in the years ahead – both at home and abroad.

 

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