Integrity key to entrepreneur's success in Asia

When Morgan Maw, of Bonnie Goods, set off to Indonesia in 2016 with other Kiwi food and beverage entrepreneurs as part of the Foundation’s ASEAN Young Business Leaders Initiative she was still rolling her Edinburgh-inspired oatcakes by hand in her Grey Lynn kitchen.
Morgan Maw

Bonnie: “We like to think New Zealand’s got this image of clean and green but to be able to uphold that is another thing."

Today, production of her wholegrain baked goodies is outsourced and her superfood snacks are hitting the spot for foodies in Singapore and Hong Kong in addition to New Zealand.

Plus, she’s become a champion for the humble oat – a grain she says is good for us and good for the earth.

On the horizon, an exciting new oat-based product, with an aim to increase demand for the grain on Kiwi soil.

Morgan says the trip to Indonesia was a pivotal point in her business development.

She returned home on a mission to ensure the integrity of her supply chain, inspired by an introduction to an Indonesian distributor, Javara, able to trace the origins of the raw ingredients they dealt.

“They just had a really incredible, sustainable story for every single ingredient…for their coconut chips, they showed us pictures of the coconut plantation…They told us how they supported farmers and helped finance them.

“That’s when I realised, I’m selling these oatcakes, and I sold biscuits not long after that, and I’m really passionate about oats, but I can’t tell the story of where my oats are coming from.”

In New Zealand, she relied on one supplier of oats, which meant it was virtually impossible to trace where exactly her grains were coming from.

Not good enough, she decided.

“For the following two years, I just really honed in on this one grain, learning everything I could about how they are grown in New Zealand.”

“I was learning about everything from water usage to the fact that they are really nitrogen hungry, which is great because a lot of our soils leach nitrate.

“What sort of sprays are applied to them and what does that mean – what ends up in the end product and what are the regulations around that.”

As a result, Morgan and Bonnie Goods have teamed up with two like-minded, sustainability-focused growers, who are farming oats to supply the business.

It provides Morgan the ingredient traceability she was hungry for, and gives her oat products an integrity invaluable in offshore markets, especially in Asia.

It’s too easy for Kiwi businesses to leverage off the country’s good reputation without really delving into the nitty gritty of their own production processes, she says.

“We like to think New Zealand’s got this image of clean and green but to be able to uphold that is another thing.

“In the Asian market, where we don't have volume, value is all we've got. So, you have to really maximise on that.”

Morgan sitting on a tractor

Bonnie searched for and found farmers who shared similar values to her on sustainability

Earlier this year, Morgan hit the Waikato, once again a guest of the Foundation, attending Fieldays alongside seven entrepreneurs from North Asia and other Kiwi agribusiness up-and-comers.

It was an eye-opener.

Of interest: comparing the business priorities of the two groups of entrepreneurs, she says.

Sustainability was a hot topic among the locals, while food safety, keeping up with demand and staying well-priced were top priorities for their North Asia counterparts.

It’s food for thought as she looks to the future. Food safety, for example, is a given in New Zealand, but looking to new Asian markets it may mean a change in packaging or branding to connect with new consumers, Morgan says.

Similar insights were garnered on that original trip to Indonesia too.

She learnt buyer behaviour in Indonesia is different from home – people rarely buy in bulk, for example, so buy-two-get-one-free deals may not work as an incentive – and traffic’s an absolute nightmare, so scooters often deliver online food orders, making smaller, convenient-sized packs attractive.

“I got so much value from just seeing how different the way of doing business over there is.”

And that’s been the beauty of her ongoing connection with the Foundation, Morgan says.

“Real contact with key stakeholders and key people in different parts of Asia.

“I think we all like to hypothesise what we think the China consumer (for example) wants, but it’s not until you actually connect with somebody who lives in these countries or has done business there for the last 15 to 20 years that you actually really get that true insight.

“Otherwise, I, like so many other businesses, would just be taking a best guess.”