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Appetite for desiccation: Kiwigarden takes bite out of the export snack market

With three kids, a booming business and numerous awards – not to mention a rugby-star husband – Jo Edwards somehow finds time to chat with Idealog.

It has all the makings of the quintessential Kiwi success story.

On returning home from London to the Hawkes Bay with husband Taine Randell (yup, that one) and their three children, ex-lawyer turned entrepreneur Jo Edwards found herself unhappy at a conspicuous lack of nutritious kids’ lunch box options on the supermarket shelves: not only were healthy options hard to find, but her son developed severe eczema, a frightening experience that led her to think more seriously about just what her family was eating.  

“As parents, you always want the best for your children,” says Edwards. “It was terrifying going through this eczema thing and I ended up becoming very conscious of labels and what we were eating.”

Not content to simply fret, Edwards started experimenting in her father’s freeze drying factory and discovered that the freeze dry process was perfect for creating crunchy treats that appealed to young snackers that were also as healthy as it gets.

“Freeze drying is a very gentle process that removes only the water without losing any of the nutrients,” says Edwards. “Then we use the best New Zealand produce and the best, locally sourced yoghurt we can find. It’s simple.”

That was five years ago. Launching in August 2013 at the Auckland Food Show, things progressed quickly and within its first year of operation, Kiwigarden had sold over one hundred thousand units of its yoghurt drops and fruit slices to New Zealanders.

“When we started selling into supermarkets we noticed some were doing particularly well and we found that a lot of product was being sent to people’s friends and family abroad. We started doing some research and figured that there was a lot of demand from certain overseas markets.”

“We thought ‘let's see how it goes domestically’, it was well received and then within the first year we were sending our first shipment off to China. It was happening quickly and we had to embrace it.”

Embrace it they have. The company now sells more than three and a half million units of its healthy snack foods to markets including Japan, China, Singapore and Indonesia every year.

Edwards says part of the success is the fact that New Zealand's clean and green image still has real clout overseas.

  • Read Idealog's interview with Tommy Roff from Fresh As and how he changed the way a generation of chefs cooked here

“The Pure NZ story is really strong abroad, particularly into those Asian markets where we’ve done very well. That brings with a lot of responsibility too – we have to live up to New Zealand’s reputation for quality – so that can sometimes make sourcing everything locally one of the bigger challenges.”

It’s a challenge they appear to be meeting, however. The company has just launched a new range of ‘superfood’ snacks, including New Zealand strawberries, blueberries and garden peas, as well as Greek-style yoghurt drops paired with berries, perfect for busy parents concerned about their children’s nutrition.

“We need to make life as easy for ourselves, and we need something that is convenient without compromising on the nutrition,” she says. “As parents, we just have to ask ourselves ‘Does it taste good and am I happy as a parent for my child to be munching on this?’”

In addition to export success, the company has also scooped a number of food awards (with seven out of nine of the Kiwigarden products being a New Zealand Food Award winner or finalist). So what’s next for the rapidly growing exporter?

“Strategically, we're still focused on our branding,” she says. “We’re doing a lot of work around translating our brand into key markets. People often say, ‘oh, the culture is so different over there’, but we don’t see it that way.”

“We go to these [consumer trade] shows and we see the common denominator: We’re all just parents who care about what our kids are eating.”

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