The decision to keep the potato mop top virus in New Zealand may be better for the industry.
From the main office room, the view is over a small wetland and the nature reserve of Kapiti Island looms in the background. You can hear the waves hitting the nearby beach. Only three people – Chris Claridge, his wife and another employee – work here. He lives in the world of the virtual office where others who support his operation are far from the head office.
His family already has an interest in the health industry: his father is a medical doctor and his sister has worked in the food safety area at MPI. He has a science degree but until the Christchurch earthquake he ran an advertising agency in that city.
“At that time in Christchurch it was a bit difficult so the logic was to find a product or a service that didn’t require a domestic market. It was also logical to find something scalable, that was in demand and where New Zealand had a competitive advantage and something I had some knowledge of. At the start we looked at adult formulas and noticed a lot of the products on the shelves were made offshore which seemed a bit stupid. At that time there was a frenzy of Chinese people in New Zealand buying infant formula and shipping it back to China.”
With a background in brand development and management Claridge and his family decided to target the infant formula market. He assembled a virtual product development team using digital media techniques and in parallel worked with three canning plants in Auckland.
In 2012 the first batch of 7500 cans was launched into the Chinese market at the Shanghai ‘Mother and Baby Show’.
His company’s sales have grown rapidly and last year it exported 750,000 cans of infant formula to China.
His operation is small and so are sales of New Zealand branded infant to China – in total about 10 million cans are sent to China each year.
Though the firm hasn’t millions to spend on promotion, Claridge uses his advertising skills to do smart and entertaining in-store promotions.
On his visits to China he packs his ukulele and sings and gets local people to join in.
“We have below- and above-the-line marketing and I travel throughout China meeting retailers. Above-the-line is media spending including television advertising. I made a commercial being shown on Chinese TV in my living room at home. We are in 3500 stores in China so we travel and meet our sub-distributors and retailers and run training programmes and seminars. So far I have run about 30 seminars and visited 150 stores.”
Although he buys some of his raw material from Fonterra (he also buys some from Synlait) Claridge does not see Fonterra as a competitor. He says they seemed to have struggled to get their own brand into China and he doesn’t see them as a threat.
In the meantime Carrickmore continues to increase its exports to China – another example of a small, smart company developing a profitable niche in the world’s most competitive high profile food market.
On Twitter follow Chris and his Chinese adventures @claridgechris
– Peter Burke