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Sky’s the limit as Moonbars take flight in Asia

Richard King, a former first-class cricketer who three years ago set out to make an ultra healthy snack bar with David Bowie-inspired names, has just signed his first export deal with a Malaysian distributor.

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Richard King

Now King’s Moonbars – Pistachio and Date Oddity, Ground Control Cranberry and Hazelnut Intergalactic Inca Berry – are available in Malaysian supermarkets and pharmacies – and he’s looking to crack other Asian markets too.

As a Māori business owner (Te Arawa and Ngāpuhi), King is utterly focused on building a brand that’s all about authenticity and living up to its values.  With a background in international finance, including a stint working in the Middle East, he took the plunge to create Moonbars despite having no previous food technology or manufacturing experience.

“I was working in the Auckland CBD, and found it hard to find healthy, nutritional food to snack on.  I looked at what was in the existing ‘health’ bars and decided they were simply a big brand hustle.

“I decided I wanted to create a bar with totally natural ingredients, one that tasted good and was good for you.  Moonbars aren’t processed – they are raw wholefood.”

It took two years of experimenting in his kitchen to perfect his recipes.  Unlike most commercial bars King’s gluten-free bars do not use fillers such as rolled oats, puffed wheat, dates or peanuts.

“Those ingredients are OK but have inferior nutritional benefits to the quality nuts and seeds I use – pistachio, almonds and hazelnuts. And I use New Zealand rewarewa honey to help bind the bars, rather than an extruded paste.”

King’s export breakthrough came on the back of an Asia New Zealand Foundation Young Business Leaders Initiative (YBLI) visit to Malaysia and Singapore in May.

A group of people standing in front of a table displaying their products

“I wanted to get a feel for the countries and potential markets. In Kuala Lumpur we joined an NZTE/Māori trade delegation and met with potential distributors and buyers. That led directly to my export deal.

“The YBLI programme is gold. I encourage any fledging business with an eye on South East Asia to get involved. You won’t regret it because it opens so many doors. If I hadn’t been part of the programme I would not be now exporting.”

It’s a far cry from King’s early sales strategy, which saw him knocking on café doors throughout Auckland to entice owners to stock his wares. That eventually led to distribution deals with upmarket food chains such as Faro Fresh and Moore Wilson, and then deals with national supermarket chains.

Elite sportspeople are among the many Moonbar converts. The bars feature in the players’ lounge at the Wuhan Open, a Women’s Tennis Association second tier event involving the world’s top 50 female players.

A photo of energy bar Moonbars

With his first export deal signed, King is now exploring other markets and new product lines, some of which have already been tested to commercial production levels.

“I’m growing the business out of cash flow, and for any small business that’s challenging. It would be ideal if my exposure in Asia led to offers of capital injection so I can grow the business into a globally recognised brand with great distribution channels.”

Since 2012, the ASEAN Young Business Leaders Initiative has brought 80 entrepreneurs and business leaders from Southeast Asia to New Zealand, building business connections and facilitating trade links. The initiative also sends New Zealand entrepreneurs to participate in sector-specific programmes in Southeast Asia.

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7 November 2017