Winning the 2019 David Awards was one of many highlights last year for Christchurch’s Alex Watson and The Little Bone Broth Company. The fledgling business has grown incredibly fast, and the award couldn’t have come at a better time.
It has been less than two years since Alex Watson first went to the Riccarton Bush Farmers Market with just 45 jars of his slow-cooked bone broth.
Today his commercial kitchen in Christchurch operates 24/7, with up to ten staff – bottling around 2000 jars a week and supplying more than 70 stores nationwide. He’s already an A List Foodstuffs South Island supplier and in the process of achieving the same status with Foodstuffs North Island.
Alex (pictured with Awards judge Richard O’Brien) was busy filling jars when NZBusiness phoned to gauge his reaction to winning the Supreme award, and the Most Outstanding Fledgling Business category, in the David Awards 2019.
He had originally heard about the awards through a past supreme winner, Heat Pumps NOW, at his local BNI chapter.
“We were absolutely rapt to make the finals and win the best fledgling category, in what was a tough few weeks for us, and then when I heard we’d won the supreme award – well, I’m still trying to get my head around that.”
In terms of encouraging him on, Alex says the award couldn’t have come at a better time.
He says the major challenge in upscaling his business has been estimating what level to aim for. As they’re targeting the foodstuffs sector, he admits to being completely unaware of what to expect. “We had no idea of what quantities we’d need to keep up with demand, and lived in absolute fear of not being able to supply enough [and losing business].”
Not long after starting The Little Bone Broth Company in March 2018, Alex took over a business called Pure Kitchen, which had a commercial kitchen to produce not only his bone broth, but also the existing range of gluten-free artisan cakes, muffins, slices and biscuits for Canterbury and South Island cafés. He has also managed to get the Pure Kitchen range into Foodstuffs South Island, which he’s rather chuffed about. In total he has 17 products going into their supermarkets. No small achievement.
Alex admits that he found the whole experience of accessing the supermarkets “mind boggling”, but it all came down to them liking his products and his brand story.
Then it was a matter of moving up from a food control plan with the local Council to National Level 1 Certification with MPI – “requiring consultants and a massive amount of work,” according to Alex. “All sorts of things that I’d never had to deal with before.”
Getting your product onto supermarket shelves is no guarantee you’ll succeed either, he adds. “If it’s not selling, after 12 weeks it’s a case of ‘see you later’!”
You might think that bone broth is a polar opposite from cakes, muffins and biscuits, but Alex says the two product lines align well. It’s all about delicious food that’s good for you, he says. And in the case of the bone broth – it’s ready to drink from the jar. In fact more than half of consumers have it on its own.
“It’s a fantastic way to line your gut and start your day,” explains Alex. “And an ideal replacement for coffee.
“It tastes almost like a chicken consumé, has huge depth of flavour, and with no additives it’s an ideal base for cooking.”
“When you’re in business on your own you really get to appreciate your strengths and weaknesses very quickly.”
Running the Little Bone Broth Company’s commercial kitchen is labour intensive. Automation is on the cards as the business grows but for now Alex wears multiple hats and on any given day you may find him bottling product or washing glass jars by hand.
Glass is expensive, heavy and prone to breakage, so other eco-friendly packaging options will be pursued. But for now Alex says consumers appreciate the glass jar.
No prior experience
Despite being active in the Christchurch hospitality scene for a long time, The Little Bone Broth Company is Alex’s first taste of running a business on his own. He’s responsible for everything from payroll to production, sales and marketing.
“This business has been a massive learning curve. When you’re in business on your own you really get to appreciate your strengths and weaknesses very quickly.”
He says he has always had a policy of surrounding himself with good people and asking for help, rather than trying to wing it.
Of course, having won the supreme David Award, you’d expect that Alex has also faced some adversity along the way – and much of that has been around the long hours and hard work he’s put in over the past two years.
He says when things are going well it’s easy to stay positive – filling another 100 jars doesn’t faze him. It’s only when you hit a roadblock that the wheel can get a bit wobbly. Thankfully there’s been nothing too major so far.
He’s grateful for the support of his wife Catherine, a full-time registered nurse who, at the time of writing, is expecting the birth of the couple’s first child. Catherine often helps out at the Farmers Market and now manages all of the company’s social media.
He’s also grateful for the various mentors who advise him, including his ex-personal trainer, and his parents in law who have been in business for 40-plus years.
Looking back on the journey so far, Alex admits that he was initially a little daunted at the prospect of negotiating with the “massive corporate monster” in Foodstuffs – who turned out to be just normal people too, and great to deal with.
“Thankfully I’m a lot smarter now about how things work and I don’t have to ask so many dumb questions,” he says.
With the business two years old in March, Alex says they currently have a lot of balls in the air. They’re weighing up options around different product sizing and price points for the bone broth, as well as introducing eco-containers, putting the product into powder form, adding healthy ingredients such as turmeric and ginger, and exporting to Asia and Australia by capitalising on New Zealand’s USPs, such as our grass-fed beef and free-range chicken.
“The healing properties of bone broth are well known in Chinese medicine,” says Alex. “The Chinese have bone broth remedies going back centuries.”
There’s also the opportunity to expand their kitchen into the premises next door.
Going forward the goal is to get the bone broth into supermarkets across the country, and with people learning more about bone broth every day, that shouldn’t be too difficult.
Alex is not even concerned if other bone broth producers enter the market. He believes competition will only help educate people on the benefits of consuming bone broth, and the market overall will grow as a result.
He also acknowledges that their success can be largely attributed to national and global market trends. “Paleo and Keto diets are growing in popularity, and our bone broth ticks all their boxes as an all-natural supplement, packed with vitamins and good fats that help people on their weight loss journey.
Reflecting on his David Award and the progress he’s made with the business so far, Alex says it all exceeds his wildest expectations.
Which all goes to prove that when the right product comes along at the right time and has the necessary energy and passion behind it, anything’s possible.
Story by Glenn Baker, editor of NZBusiness.
United in adversity
#Most Outstanding Established Business: Pocketspace Interiors
Laura Lochhead was just 26 when she launched her interior design company in 2015. She had $3000, but no house, car or laptop. A bank turned down her request for business funding. But that didn’t put her off. “After seeing how the design agency I was working for turned away small space clients, I knew there was a real opportunity.”
Laura quit her job, found her first client, and used the profit from that project to pay for a website. That lead to more business and a car – a vital purchase after a St Heliers client saw her waiting at a bus-stop. “I’d just done an install lugging cushions around the city,” she recalls. “Not as professional looking as I would have liked!”
Today, annual revenue has reached $1.1 million, Laura has two full-time staff, a tight collection of contractors and a studio in Ponsonby.
So what did that initial funding experience teach her about adversity?
“It taught me to believe in yourself. No one is going to fight for you like you do,” she says. “Once the bank didn’t support my vision I persevered and it became a point of proving everyone wrong at that stage.
“There came a time when I realised that I do have something magic here and I will grow Pocketspace into something I’m proud of. The great thing about adversity is that with the right support and mind-set, it is only a roadblock as long as you make it one.”
While most people are eager to support Pocketspace and see it grow as a successful industry thought leader, Laura admits credibility was a hurdle in the beginning. “People always ask me how old I am, and what are my credentials. I find that demeaning in some situations.”
Another hurdle has been recognising when to put in the right processes, and distinguishing what they are. “That’s been an ongoing development with the team.”
#Most Outstanding Triumph Over Adversity: NopeSisters Clothing
For sisters Brittany and Johanna Cosgrove (pictured below) entering the David Awards was an absolute no-brainer. “We thought it was a great way to sit alongside, and champion, all the people like us who dream and toil and grow their own small businesses,” says Brittany.
Their business NopeSisters is a social enterprise fashion company making clothes with messages that resonate with the sisters – who are both in their twenties – and their generation.
“We only make things we really believe in or want to wear ourselves. We are just responding to our own experiences: such as coping with sexual assault, watching Mum and others go through breast cancer; managing our daily lives and business with days of deep depression, anxiety or disordered eating; or losing our friends and loved ones to suicide.
“Every charity organisation ‘hero’ we are paired with made us feel like we could make some small contribution to work that was really helping others. They do all the tough face-to-face work, and we can do what we do best to help them.”
Cashflow has been a killer for the business, say the sisters.
“In order to always have enough to pay for outgoings we created a make-to-order model that was based on a brilliant relationship we built up with local apparel maker A1 Embroidery,” explains Brittany. “Custom making every single order means customers do have to wait a bit longer, but they don’t mind waiting for a meaningful item that they believe in.”
The sisters highly recommend getting involved in any business awards that recognise your work – like the Davids. “Any opportunity a small business person gets to tell their story and share their work will help them, as well as others who may not know about them,” says Brittany.
“Just be super authentic and honest, and keep it real when you tell that story.”
#Most Innovative Business: Puhoi Organic Distillery
Alex Kirichuk, the owner, distiller and director of Puhoi Organic Distillery, sees the David Awards as a perfect vehicle for his boutique family business. Alex regards the current incumbent big brand alcohol producers “who successfully make money manufacturing cheap and nasty alcohol” as their main adversary.
The Ukrainian migrant family has weathered a long, tough journey to get their business to where it is today, but now they are setting big goals for 2020: starting their export initiative; further educating the market on the myths and the truth surrounding alcohol production; and making the Puhoi Organic Distillery an iconic VIP tourist destination.
The micro-distillery is 100 percent autonomous and produces an all-natural product. “It is the only solar-powered distillery in New Zealand,” says Alex.
The spirits produced at this South Auckland distillery are backed by the family’s unique skills and experience and enotherapy science (treatment by alcohol-based remedies).
It is a true David taking on the industry Goliaths.
The little awards with big ambitions
Although the David Awards took a break in 2018, they came back in 2019 with a hiss and a roar in terms of calibre and number of entries. Now the intention is to grow on that foundation for 2020, says Pure SEO’s Richard Conway – a past supreme winner of the online-based awards and a key enabler behind this year’s Davids comeback.
“The David Awards is already the longest standing and most prestigious awards for small and micro businesses,” says Richard. “Personally, I’d still like to see it get more publicity and keep growing.”
Being a business owner can be a thankless and lonely place, he says. But these awards allows an owner to step outside the business and reflect on what they’ve achieved.
“It also allows themselves to plan, benchmark and celebrate amongst other similar size businesses.”
Heather Douglas, the founder of the awards in 2008, is keen to see a family of sponsors backing the event in 2020. And while behind the scenes it will be about building a sustainable infrastructure for the awards, the focus will remain on giving credibility to “the little guy” who punches above his or her weight. “Recognising the heroic battler who has not let adversity stand in the way of their success. And celebrating the ingenious ‘David’ who finds ways to outwit or outpace the Goliaths already dominating their industry.”
The final word goes to judge Glenn Smith – who points out that the David Awards are a great opportunity for small business owners to tell their story. “Some of the stories are inspirational, some are harrowing. But everybody has a story and it’s therapeutic and rewarding to tell them, and to read them.”
Glenn’s best advice for business owners navigating adversity is to remember you’re not alone.
“Everybody who is self-employed has failures along the way and adversity to overcome. Right now you may think to yourself ‘I wish I had a dollar for every setback I’ve endured’. Well one day you’ll be counting those dollars, because you survived those setbacks and prospered!
“Read about the David Awards entrants. They are just like you and they might just inspire you to keep going.”