She’s come a long way since starting her pie-making business I Love Pies at a local farmers’ market, but Maree Glading says people’s love of pies remains the key ingredient for her company’s success. “It is important to understand and stay constantly ahead of food trends,” she says. “You also have to be mindful of having a focus on two customers – your consumers (people who buy our pies) and our retail customers (supermarkets) each come with their own unique requirements and have different selling proposition.”
Maree Glading and Jessie Stanley, co-founders of I Love Pies.
Understanding consumers is now more important than ever in a marketplace that’s more crowded than it ever has been, Glading explains. “There are many challenges with a food business,” she says. “It is imperative to have a good supply chain network with good procedures and processes. You also have to ensure you keep your product innovation and branding fresh and up to date.”
One way I Love Pies is doing that is by teaming up with Tuatara Brewery for the launch of a new steak and ale pie. The co-branding of course is far from unique. Whittaker’s and Lewis Road Creamery famously teamed up for a limited edition release of chocolate milk, and Kiwi fashion label I Love Ugly has collaborated with global accessories brand Jansport for a range of backpacks. Glading says she hopes the Tuatara co-branding will pay similar dividend. “We wanted something that was recognisable,” she says.
Glading launched her company with business partner Jessie Stanley in 2008, selling their products out of a stall at the Clevedon Farmers’ Market with just $3,000 in startup capital. Since then, they’ve built a customer base throughout New Zealand – and they plan on expanding that customer base much further. “Both Jessie and I are passionate foodies who love to cook at home,” Glading says. “Our careers have always been in food, myself in marketing and Jessie as a food technologist for big food corporates. Once we started about having our own families, it made us think really hard about the food that we would be proud to give our own friends and family. We saw a great opportunity within pies, which at the time was large, relative unbranded, lacked innovation and was full of poor quality product.”
Though the pie business is an unquestionably competitive industry in New Zealand, Glading believes her company’s business model is what sets it apart. “We like to see ourselves as category disrupters,” she explains. “We develop products in categories that already exist but try to make them better than what is currently available. For example, our premium pies were ground-breaking when they were first launched in supermarkets – no one was making a chilled family pie, no one was using no preservatives, butter pastry or free-range meat. Then we did the same thing with frozen sausage rolls. We also think we have a really good understanding of the needs of our consumers – partly because we are busy mums ourselves so we like to create products we want at home.”
Positive customer feedback and a few prestigious awards, such as a Westpac Business Award for Best Emerging Business and a New Zealand Food Award for their sausage rolls, has helped keep the business going over the past eight years. “It is amazing to be involved in all aspects of the business,” says Glading. “It is also great to be involved in creating a brand that we feel passionate about that is offering a superior product. It is also amazing seeing consumers’ good responses to our brand and new products. Being in the food industry isn’t easy, and it is important that you have a level tenacity and passion.”
Tenacity and passion are two things Glading says the company will need, as it hopes to raise its annual revenue from a current figure of about $8 million per year to $16 million per year by 2018. Doubling revenue is never easy, but Glading thinks focusing on export markets, expanding the company’s footprint in Asia beyond Hong Kong, and pouring more resources into its frozen pies division could help it get there. Already, I Love Pies is growing between 40 percent and 50 percent year-on-year, Glading says. “We’re going through a massive growth phase.”
Continuing I Love Pies’ partnership with warehouse wholesaler Costco will also be a big part of the business strategy for growth, Glading explains. A year into its partnership, I Love Pies products can currently be purchased at all eight of Costco’s Australian locations. But considering Costco operates hundreds of warehouses around the world, Glading is hoping the partnership could eventually lead to sales opportunities in markets like the United Kingdom and the United States.
Ambitious as her plans may sound, Glading is unapologetic – yet also humbled by how things have gone during the past few years. “I always knew the brand had the ability to be bigger, but I never knew it’s get to this stage,” she says. “It’s thrilling. Pies the limit!”