For the love of healthy living
Forty Thieves owners Brent and Shyr Godfrey successfully steered their business through the pandemic storm and are now planning for a brighter future with new markets and new products. On the day Jacinda Ardern announced New Zealand’s nationwide lockdown numerous customer emails suddenly appeared in Shyr Godfrey’s inbox, including one from Foodstuffs, all stating their […]
Forty Thieves owners Brent and Shyr Godfrey successfully steered their business through the pandemic storm and are now planning for a brighter future with new markets and new products.
On the day Jacinda Ardern announced New Zealand’s nationwide lockdown numerous customer emails suddenly appeared in Shyr Godfrey’s inbox, including one from Foodstuffs, all stating their expectations for ongoing product supply.
“That was both fortunate and frightening,” she recalls, “because we didn’t know what the future would bring.”
Luckily the nut-based products produced by Forty Thieves, the Hibiscus Coast-based company that she started with husband Brent in 2016, are regarded as essential food items.
Rather than facing declining sales, as many businesses did amongst all the panic-buying for staples, Shyr says their sales went crazy over the lockdown period.
At the time of writing (two weeks into Level 2) Forty Thieves products – such as the award-winning Salted Macadamia with Maple and Vanilla, and Chai Spiced Almond – were still selling strong, and plans well advanced for upgrading to a larger factory.
Shyr and Brent first met in 2008 and both ended up working in Sydney – Shyr was in graphic design, Brent in market research. They subsequently travelled the world, and learnt how to exist frugally – which they say proved to be a great discipline for the early days of Forty Thieves.
Brainstorming business ideas back in New Zealand led to the idea of producing a range of nutrient-rich nut butters (think almonds, peanuts, macadamias) – which they refer to as “the original superfoods”. It fitted in nicely with the fact that they both share a passion for fitness and healthy living (with Brent an experienced athlete) and sustainability (no plastic to see here!).
To get the business off the ground the couple chose the traditional route: rent a commercial kitchen by the hour, produce their own labelling, and then blitz various Farmers’ markets.
This strategy achieved product validation and it was on to health stores and food shows including the prestigious New Zealand Food Show, a deal with Farro Fresh, and finally, the big breakthrough: Foodstuff’s supermarkets (New World and Pak ‘n Save).
And the very day that Shyr was interviewed by NZBusiness, they received the green light to run an initial trial with Countdown.
Before they could afford sales reps to do the work for them, it was hard graft for Brent and Shyr over six months to get the brand established in the supermarkets. They were the ‘face’ of the business, even for in-store tastings.
“A lot of people start with an excellent product and then look to make it into a business,” explains Shyr. “But we knew we had the complementary skills and drive to do something different. We went the other way – asking what do we love and what can we take to market? With our design and finance backgrounds we knew we could set ourselves apart from day one.”
Lessons with hindsight
Looking back on the whole experience, Shyr and Brent believe it’s important not to become too attached to your products. “Our first four products are no longer produced,” says Shyr. “And when we eventually switched focus to pure almond butter, sales went through the roof.
“The lesson here is to listen to your customers right from day one. If a product isn’t selling, then move on to others that will sell.”
Those first products may get you established at the markets, but then it’s important to establish validation – to gather research and feedback first-hand and act on it, she adds, which is why they eventually decided to introduce their own peanut butter.
“It’s also interesting to note that everything that sold well at the Farmer’s Markets went on to sell well at the supermarkets. Those markets are a great way to launch and test products and get instant feedback before you take on investment, develop new in-house infrastructure or buy additional equipment.”
The key to marketing success is to be customer centric, says Shyr – “that’s taking a ‘customer is always right’ attitude and dealing with complaints immediately.”
It’s also about the two of them being the aforementioned ‘face’ of the business, and about maintaining the highest standards possible around design, packaging, photography and marketing collateral. All to reflect their products’ premium positioning and highest quality ingredients.
With some of their staff unable to work under lockdown and baby Natalia to care for, taking the business through Level 4 restrictions reminded Shyr and Brent of their early days.
“It was very stressful, but you just had to make the most of the situation,” says Shyr. “We were just stoked that we could keep going.”
They decided to switch focus to their online marketing and, after cutting costs and offering free shipping, watched online sales increase by up to 400 percent in one month.
The lockdown delayed their trial with Countdown, as supermarkets switched focus from new products to basics. But all the market uncertainty didn’t stop the couple pressing ahead with new products covering new categories.
They’ve also been succeeding in offshore markets – with shipments to the US and China before the lockdown, and sales to Australian customers via Amazon.
Another positive from the lockdown was the opportunity not just to focus on marketing and production, but experience some enforced lifestyle. “Suddenly we were forced to stay home and take daily walks along the beach. It all helped us to remember why we got into our own business in the first place. It was an opportunity to step back a little, refocus, and think about our goals for the next five years,” says Shyr.
The couple’s advice to other small business owners still feeling their way through the disruption is to stay positive and assess the landscape. Can you develop online sales? Should you readjust your product offering or the channels you sell through?
And how can you look after your customers more? Forty Thieves offered free shipping. “People were really thankful for that,” remembers Shyr.
Exciting times ahead
Shyr and Brent have every reason to be excited about Forty Thieves’ future. Their new factory in Stanmore Bay comes with better equipment and greater efficiencies and will also provide the capability to enter new product categories.
Additional supermarket sales will boost revenues, and with some serious marketing in offshore markets such as Australia, the US, UK and China, export sales are also tipped to grow.
Forty Thieves is also riding the new wave of popularity for plant-based products that are good for people and good for the planet.
In a nutshell, there are no shortcuts when you’re in business for the long haul.