RockitTM – A Kea Connect Journey.
With licence to grow their apples in ten different countries and export deals with more than 30 others, New Zealand company Rockit Global Limited (RGL) is a true global success story.
GM of Global Marketing, Julian Smith talks to us about the company’s local marketing strategies, the importance of connections and why being COVID free country is a benefit for New Zealand businesses.
Tell us a bit about RockitTM and your journey of producing miniature apples?
RGL is a high growth, innovative company based in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand. We hold the exclusive rights to grow and distribute the PremA96 miniature apple variety, under the brand name RockitTM apple. It’s the first fully mature miniature apple, a natural hybrid of New Zealand’s popular Gala and Gala x Splendour apples, and is the result of 20 years of careful natural breeding by New Zealand Plant and Food scientists. RGL currently has 350,000 trees planted in New Zealand, a total of almost 500 hectares – and a further 1.7 million trees planted around the globe. We are on track to develop 150 hectares in New Zealand this year, and 250 hectares in 2022.
What markets do you currently export to, and how has your entry strategy differed across these markets?
We were looking to differentiate in a commodity-based category by thinking differently and taking a value added product to global markets. We first exported the apples in 2013 and now grow under licence in New Zealand, Australia, USA, UK, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Belgium and South Africa. RockitTM apples are available year-round in more than 30 countries and New Zealand export sales are expected to reach $80m in 2021. We’ve focussed on doing things differently by employing branded content, digital marketing and working with KOL’s and influencers in each global market we sell into. We are developing the brand to resonate strongly with local tastes and our consumer segments. Each market requires a localised entry strategy, and to help us enter the Indian market, we launched international cricket star, Kane Williamson as our first ever Global Ambassador. Kane is not only the current captain of the New Zealand Black Caps, he also plays in the prestigious Indian Premier League (IPL), reaching an audience of millions of cricket fans around the world. In China, we have grown our in-market team over the past few years to best cater for growing demand across this key market. Investing in dedicated expertise in this market has enabled us to swiftly respond to any challenges that arise and effectively localise our marketing for the target consumer through digital marketing including social activations with KOL’s and localised content, resulting in greater brand awareness, and boosting our sales.
Tell us about your experience with Kea Connect since reaching out in 2019?
Kea Connect has been great to help us grow our local knowledge as we enter new markets, providing useful connections and supplier recommendations. This can save both time and expense, avoiding costly mistakes that could impact on our market entry success. One connection which was of particular significance was an introduction to the then President and CEO of Walmart USA. This was an extremely valuable conversation that provided us with useful insights in respect of USA consumers, store formats, packaging trends and other information relevant to the USA market. We have been able to sell out of RockitTM every season and Walmart has been a big part of the distribution in the USA to achieve this. It’s very impressive that Kea can arrange such valuable conversations at such a high level. We could not have asked for a better contact.
How has RockitTM grown since 2019?
Despite the significant challenges wrought by Covid-19, over the past year, RockitTM sales have been exceptional with all our markets growing rapidly. Demand has been so strong that we have invested heavily in our orchard and packhouse facilities which will see our volume double from 2019. In 2021, we have experienced a 43% increase in total sales.
Substantial growth has also seen our permanent staff numbers increase by 43% over the last two years, along with growth each year in seasonal employment. This has seen us expand into our new state of the art global headquarters, packhouse and cool store in Hastings – gifted the name Te Ipu, by local iwi Ngāti Kahungunu -, which officially opened in June.
Is there a particular mistake or learning that sticks out for you?
Our brand wasn’t connecting in global markets and we thought we needed to market and appeal to kids with childish marketing and a whimsical style. We were not measuring any of our marketing metrics and didn’t bring brand performance into our culture. Through consumer research and a new direction for our marketing in the last year, we are looking to be far more disruptive and stand out in the market as the challenger brand with local appeal. As part of our journey to create a greater impact for our brand and drive increased global sales, our Global Marketing team has recently localised our marketing assets for individual countries. This has been instrumental in assisting our strong growth curve and is something we continue to develop.
As the company has grown, we’ve been able to access the resources required to engage marketing agencies in our key global markets. These agencies understand what local consumers want and can therefore create effective localised relevant content – which has helped us do even better. Our social media following has doubled and we’ve set ambitious global marketing metrics.
When you think about success in NZ F&B, what trends do you see emerging?
We’ve set up a global brand and consumer trend tracker through Qualtrics and are monitoring consumer trends in key international markets. We’ve seen Food Safety as the highest consumer driver in our category amongst global consumers. With food safety, secure supply chain management and family health and wellness currently at the forefront of people’s minds, all New Zealand food producers have a distinct advantage given our produce is already of an outstanding quality. In addition, our country is virtually free of Covid-19.
One of the developments that will help us maintain the highest possible standards and continue to meet growing demand is our new Rockit global headquarters, packhouse and cool store in Hastings.
While it’s been a huge investment, it will help us improve efficiencies through leading digital innovation. It has been exciting to see the efficiencies that are already being made, and that the tech is working well.
Our philosophy around food safety and minimal waste is well placed with sustainability being a key ongoing trend. It’s a top priority for us that Rockit™ apples are grown, harvested, and packaged in ways that are as sustainable as possible, so we’ve invested in new equipment to enable us to trial some packaging alternatives. Having already switched to cardboard packaging in markets where this is viable– New Zealand, Australia, and Europe – we know we can improve sustainability across our remaining international markets too. It’s just going to take time, energy and commitment.
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