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Baking a better world: Inside I Love Food Co’s sustainability push (and recent sale)

Sustainability is something many food businesses are championing these days, but I Love Food Co is pushing sustainability in its products in a variety of new and innovative ways, such as replacing 20 percent of the sugar that would normally be used in its biscuits with date puree – a more sustainable and healthier alternative. We chat with co-founder Maree Glading about the company's latest moves, as well as its sale to Walter & Wild, the New Zealand-based food group owned by Harry and Graeme Hart. 

There are a few ways to go about innovation in sustainability. There’s the overt way, such as creating an entirely new product – like an autonomous aquatic drone that can collect rubbish (they’re in Dubai now, but wouldn’t it be cool to see them in Aotearoa’s waterways?) – and launching said product with a big, fancy PR campaign. There’s nothing wrong with going about things that way, of course, but it does often cost a fair bit of money – money many businesses don’t have.

Then there’s the subtle way, such as substituting imported palm oil with local butter and selling your baked goods in recyclable bags. Such moves don’t always make the headlines, but they’re no less important in helping save our planet.

I Love Food Co (formerly I Love Pies) falls more into the latter category. As co-founder Maree Glading explains, the important thing is that they’re still making a difference while continuing to survive as a business. And not just surviving, it should be noted, but thriving.

As Idealog wrote in 2016, Glading launched her company with Jessie Stanley in 2008, selling pies using made with a special sour cream pastry out of a stall at the Clevedon Farmers’ Market with only $3,000 in startup capital. About 100 pies were made at first – which just so happened to sell out in under an hour. A business was born.

Listen to this podcast with I Love Food Co's Maree Glading on business, baking and being the best you can be:
 

Now, the company has just been bought by Walter & Wild, a New Zealand company owned by Harry Hart and his billionaire father Graeme Hart, which also owns Hubbards Foods, Hansells, Gregg's Sauces, Alfa One, Aunt Betty's and Vitafresh. The price of the sale was undisclosed.

Walter & Wild CEO Harry Hart said the acquisition was about more than I Love Food Co's delicious products – it was about bringing Glading and co-founder Jessie Stanley's expertise to the company. 

“It’s also about infusing I Love Food Co’s authenticity, innovation and deep connection to the consumer into Walter & Wild’s DNA. That’s something to be incredibly excited about.”

Since launching the I Love Pies brand ten years ago at the Clevedon Farmer’s Market, the company has gone on to be stocked in supermarkets across New Zealand and exported further afield. These days, the company competes within the chilled and frozen pies and sausage roll categories, as well as in biscuits. Glading says the brand is now nationwide in New Zealand (supermarkets, gourmet food stores and dairies), and is exported to Hong Kong, China, Singapore and Fiji.

“There has been strong growth for I Love Food Co,” Glading explains. “We have seen around 30 percent growth year on year, and we are continuing to add to our range through the introduction of new fillings in our Limited Edition range. In addition to the pies in the chiller, we also have gluten free pies, sausage rolls and dessert pies available in the freezer section.”

That’s not all, either. “Last year we launched the I Love Baking range of cookies,” Glading explains. “The main innovation with these cookies is that they are partially sweetened with date puree, which reduced the amount of refined sugar we use. There is no other cookie on the market like it. They come in a resealable pouch, and this year we launched them in a big and kids range.”

The company believes its growth has been achieved by sticking true to its core business values – with authenticity and positive interactions not least among them. Sticking true to such values helped I Love Food Co become the official pie of Eden Park in 2017, and for their products to be available on Air New Zealand short haul Trans-Tasman and Pacific flights.

But there’s a lot more going on than simply expanding into new markets and launching new products. Glading points out the company’s sustainability efforts – something she says is more important than those aforementioned new markets and revenues.

In launching an “I Love Baking” line of biscuits, one of the key challenges was to make biscuits that were healthier than biscuits usually are and were made more sustainably, but still tasted like, well, biscuits should. The solution: replacing 20 percent of the sugar that would normally be used in a biscuit with date puree. According to Glading, no-one else selling biscuits in Aotearoa has replaced sugar with date puree, at least as far as she knows. With more fibre and potassium than sugar, the date puree also makes the biscuits healthier.

And there’s more. Glading says palm oil – much of which comes from Southeast Asia, Africa and Central and South America, the industry for which has caused untold environmental harm and is often very exploitative of workers’ rights – has been replaced with New Zealand butter. Glading says the butter, besides being much more local and healthier, also simply tastes better as an ingredient.

Then there’s the packaging for the biscuits. Part of the Love NZ Soft Plastics Recycling Scheme, they can be recycled in special bins at select stores throughout New Zealand.

Glading says the sustainability push is something that is near and dear to her heart – as well as I Love Food Co. “We do use animal products like dairy and meat, but we source these locally, and choose free range or free farmed meat and eggs. The growth of our business has coincided with consumers becoming more concerned with where their food comes from. We are committed to not using palm oil, artificial colours, flavours or preservatives. This goes across both the brands.”

With a greater focus on sustainability and a push to new markets while continuing to invest locally, it’s fair to say Glading is optimistic about the future. “[Our plans are to] continue to grow the business both domestically and through our export markets. Continue to make real food for busy families,” she explains.

And as for the acquisition by Walter & Wild, I Love Food Co's Stanley says the company's focus has always been on creating good food for busy families, with real ingredients.

"We have a strong ambition to further grow the ‘I Love’ brands to their full potential and with Walter & Wild we will be able to achieve this.” 

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