Breaking into competitive export markets can be tough. A tailored funding solution from BNZ helped one Levin-based licorice manufacturer. RJ’s Licorice has found a winning recipe, sticking to what it knows best and producing a range of quintessentially Kiwi licorice that’s sought after around the world
Roger Halliwell of RJ’s Licorice: BNZ has been instrumental in helping him achieve his goals - photo: Nicola Edmonds
Some would call it their dream job—owning a company that makes licorice. That’s what Roger Halliwell does, and while he’s certainly not eccentric, he could well be Levin’s answer to Roald Dahl’s fictional character Willy Wonka from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Having sold his company Granny’s Licorice to Nestlé, Halliwell and his son Regan established RJ’s Licorice in 1995. They’re now enjoying the sweet taste of success and sharing it with their staff and the Horowhenua community. RJ’s Licorice sponsors many community projects, events and local sports.
In 15 years, the company has grown from four employees to 65 and now has an annual turnover of close to $20 million. But rather than diversify into all manner of confectionery, the Halliwells have stuck with what they know best—licorice—and earned a large sweet-toothed following worldwide.
When they first set up the business, Roger and Regan had to travel to the US to search disused warehouses for old licorice-making machinery that they could upgrade. Now RJ’s imports state-of-the art equipment from Europe.
“For us, successful growth has been a matter of keeping up with the times in terms of our machinery,” says Halliwell. “Virtually the whole factory is now electronic and controlled by computers. About seven years ago we installed equipment to make the cooking cycle completely automated. We’re on our fourth upgrade for this cooking system, which has cost $5 million. Things have changed a lot and we’ve had to keep up.”
At present, RJ’s is doubling its production capacity by putting in a complete new line. It can now produce a tonne of licorice an hour and has cut the manufacturing process down from three hours to just seven minutes.
Halliwell says one organisation that’s been instrumental in allowing RJ’s to achieve its goals is the Bank of New Zealand.
“BNZ has helped us finance both of these projects,” says Halliwell. RJ’s Licorice has worked with BNZ since the beginning and Halliwell joined the bank more than 20 years ago.
“Before that, I’d tried virtually every other bank,” he says. “When I wanted something more, I had to go to another bank to get it. But since I’ve been with BNZ, if I’ve wanted anything they’ve given it to me—sometimes it’s been millions, other times just extensions on loans.”
RJ’s Licorice is now doubling its production capability, with help from BNZ
Simon Cocks, partner, corporate and commercial at BNZ, looks after the RJ’s Licorice account, and he and Halliwell speak regularly.
“Our partnership with RJ’s Licorice is strong and well-established,” says Cocks. “Roger is, without doubt, one of the nicest and most genuine business owners I have met. He and Regan run an extremely efficient operation, so we provide standard corporate banking services and bring in product specialists when required. However, I recently introduced them to our UK sister bank, Clydesdale Bank, to facilitate the opening of a London-based bank account for their British exports.”
RJ’s Licorice now exports its products to the US, Canada, England and Australia, but its licorice is also sold by wholesalers throughout Asia and the Pacific.
As well as providing RJ’s Licorice with financing for various capital projects, BNZ assists with the exporting side of the company’s operations, such as arranging banking facilities for RJ’s in the UK and financing of GBP export receipts. Cocks brought in treasury solutions specialist Alun Campbell and trade finance specialist Hayden Douglas to provide options and solutions in currency risk management and international trade.
“Business is all about relationships,” says Halliwell, “and the one you have with your bank manager is very important. You must have a rapport and there needs to be trust on both sides. RJ’s certainly has that with BNZ. Simon is only too pleased to help, and his longevity in the position has been a major plus. BNZ has always made things possible for our business to grow. It has simplified our day-to-day business and certainly takes the stress off.”