The Kai's the limit

The Kai's the limit
After noticing the explosion of artisan food and our thirst for more and more goodies, Greig Buckley decided to give it an e-commerce twist.

After noticing the explosion of artisan food and our thirst for more and more goodies, Greig Buckley decided to give it an e-commerce twist.

Greig Buckley - Kai

Greig Buckley, pictured at Villa Maria with sculpture Surrounded by Elaine Barry Conway

Buckley, founder of artisan food website Kai, started life as an accountant but he hasn’t let that limit his thirst for entrepreneurship and carving out his own path.

“It’s actually a useful skill to have when running your own business. I can do killer spreadsheets,” reckons Buckley, who used to run the Internet Advertising Bureau, and hence has a sizeable body of knowledge about advertising, internet media and brand development.

“I acquired an appreciation of the technology,” he says. “But I drew the line at code – there are far better younger people around to do that.”

Buckley founded Kai in early 2010 but it’s only recently come into its own as an up-and-coming artisan food e-commerce space. And there’s been a lot of legwork involved in getting it to market for Buckley, who owns 25 percent of the business along with a selection of investor partners who all have strong experience and knowledge in the food industry.

“They’re passionate about New Zealand food and its potential, and while they all have day jobs, they do offer great advice and expertise.”

Buckley secured the Kai domain name many years ago, at the same time getting permission from the Maori Language Commission to use the word.

“One rule in branding is don’t avoid the obvious. I chose Kai because my business is all about promoting New Zealand food – locally and globally. The name is unique, and has the advantages of being short, easy to pronounce, and doesn’t mean anything too rude in other languages.”

Kai was Buckley’s idea and he spent a good chunk of time researching options and examining similar successful models in other countries. He designed the system, processes, reports and so on himself and integrated it with an existing small e-commerce platform developed locally. Buckley reckons it’s very scalable and can be used as a turn-key business model in other markets, and in other product or service categories.

“The back end platform and systems are a critical success factor in his type of business.”

Artisan food seems to have experienced an explosion over the past few years, with everything from honey to yoghurt on the shelves. Buckley says consumers in general, but most of all buyers of artisan and specialty foods (which account for around 8-12 percent of food buyers in most Western markets) are more aware of and concerned about what they eat, its provenance and packaging.

We’re trending towards buying locally at small, intimate outlets such as farmers markets, and opting for sustainably produced food that’s unprocessed and GE-free.

Kai is selective and vets items by a set of guidelines and criteria to ensure products are sustainably produced or harvested; ingredients are high-quality; the item is as local as possible; free from preservatives and additives as much as possible; and made using handmade quality and character.

The logistics involved were “huge”, says Buckley.

“A lot of time and effort was spent on this in fact almost everyone I spoke to for advice said ‘just make sure you get the logistics right…’ So we did. So far so good. And we are always looking to improve them. The fresh products are of course the most challenging, buy we have worked out an efficient way to handle that.

“Our approach is to make it as easy as possible for the artisan suppliers, so they can concentrate on what they are good at and love – making the food. We do all the hard stuff like warehousing and order fulfilment.

Greig's top tips for e-success

1. Don't do anything in the artisan food segment. Thanks.

2. Make sure it is a category you love, and have a natural aptitude for.

3. Get the best experts you can afford to help you, and involve them as part of your team.

4. Get involved in the industry and then network and ask questions – most are happy to help

5. Expect everything to take twice as long and cost a lot more.

6. When the going gets tough, just be thankful you aren't working for a prick of a boss.