After traveling through the rich green-scape of the North Island of New Zealand, I must turn myself away from geothermal explorations and culinary indulgences. It’s time for reentry into the stratosphere of business for a brief two days.
Gary Hirshberg, Chairman of Stonyfield Organic, brought an expert group of industry veterans halfway across the world to the Hirshberg Entrepreneur Institute. It’s designed to give New Zealand business owners, who want to dip their natural and organic toes into the US pool, some insight into those waters.
I was lucky enough to be one of the panelists and was veritably astonished at the level of ingenuity and innovation the Kiwi folk brought forward for review.
First up was Chris Morrison, CEO of Karma Cola, the only certified organic and fair-trade cola in the world. They use real organic cola from cola nuts cultivated deep in the rainforests of West Africa. He explained that most colas use artificial flavors and real cola is scantly found in most sodas.
His company has gone the extra mile by cultivating close relationships with their cola farmers in the village of Boma in Sierra Leon. Hoping to do more than just buy their nuts, Karma Cola founded the Karma Cola Foundation. Proceeds from every bottle of Karma Cola provides schooling, pays teachers’ salaries, builds community houses, replenishes crops, and builds rice processing and food storage centers.
Karma Cola is only six years old and mustering much excitement in New Zealand and 23 other countries. With their mission in hand, they hope to enter the US organic beverage market with four brands: Karma Cola, Karma Cola Sugar-Free, Gingerella Ginger Ale and Lemony Lemonade. My bet is they’ll have a good shot at it having recently won the World’s Fairest Trader award by Fairtrade International and the UK Best Taste Award.
We heard from Dave Barrett of Nelson, NZ, CEO of Thorvald Ltd, which specializes in cheese and yogurt made from sheep. His delectable cheeses are available across the country and can be sampled in his small retail shop in Nelson. They are winning awards along the way.
His problems are twofold—capital—which isn’t uncommon in fledgling businesses but also the sheep themselves. There just aren’t enough milking sheep ruminating about to supply further expansion of his famous fermentable delights.
With some ingenuity he plans to increase his herds and produce more cheese for New Zealand and Australia. Perhaps someday the US?
Ceres Organics is a brand that is ubiquitous across the aisles and shelves of most supermarkets and superettes (miniature markets) in NZ. From organic garbanzos and lentils to soups and vegan mayonnaise, this label means organic in NZ.
Amy Laing from Ceres described how in their 35 years of business they are now navigating the waters of how to do business in brick-and-mortar stores as well as online.
Luckily, we had Betsy McGinn who is an e-commerce aficionado in our midst. She bestowed many pearls of knowledge to Ceres and others throughout the two days.
Perhaps one of the most innovative people who shared her story was Derelee Potroz-Smith, CEO and Co-Founder of Woolchemy NZ Ltd. She readily explained the passion behind her product.
Growing up on a sheep farm she witnessed first-hand the utter collapse of the NZ wool market. Consumers are now only interested in Merino wool, and modern homeowners have swapped out synthetics for wool carpets.
Today it costs more to shear your sheep than the proceeds from the sale of the wool.
Wool farming is a losing proposition, and she knows its reality all too well.
After having children, she realized that every diaper disposed was like pouring a full cup of oil down the drain and into landfills. What’s a mother to do?
She applied herself to solve both problems creating an innovative treatment technology that makes wool products super absorbent and super soft.
Regular wool absorbs only 30% of its weight in moisture, and its outer waxy layer is hydrophobic (or moisture hating). By using her patent-pending treatments, she created wool that absorbs up to 2500% of its weight in moisture!
Think diapers, bandages or even products for adult incontinence. Derelee’s amazing natural product can soak up fluids and whisk away moisture from the skin. Wool also reduces the olfactory affronts that come along with such messy endeavors. Wetness and odor be gone!
It’s ingenious people like Derelee that will solve many of our problems with one great idea and a heap of passion.
The economic decline of farmers, our dependency on fossil fuels and the propensity of plastics filling up our landfills and oceans can be mitigated with her brilliant thinking.
We heard from Tony Ahern, from Au Natural Skinfood. They have developed a clever subscription business that delivers natural skincare products, called Skinfood, directly to the consumer’s door.
Instead of merely encouraging people to recycle plastic containers, they decided to make their packaging reusable and refillable via plant-based eco-refills.
Their suave products are packaged in reusable and refillable aluminum containers, and the refills are delivered in plant-based pouches made from sugar cane and corn starch. Without the middleman, you pay less for their product and use packaging that results in a 75% reduction in the carbon footprint.
It’s good for your skin and good for the planet, and you may just see them soon in a US city near you.
This Island nation is literally brimming with people who want to make a cleaner, more sustainable world for future generations to enjoy.
Every one of the participants who attended was driven by a passion that led them to create solutions to many of our human-made problems. By delivering healthy sustainable products.
I say let these Kiwis run wild with ingenuity, and we can embrace their products across the globe!
My next NZ post will delve deep into the healing products of Manuka honey, fine wines and deep purple currants that grow in the land of the long white cloud.
Kia Ora for now.