When Lucy Bennetto was teaching drama in Dubai, she noticed that everything in restaurants was high end – except the drinking chocolate. With café culture continuing to grow, she realised there was a niche in the market. Bennetto started to learn how to make chocolate, and after rounds of trial and error, Bennetto Natural Foods Co. came to be and its 70% cocoa drinking chocolate bars hit the New Zealand market in 2011.
Initially Bennetto outsourced the production to a factory in Christchurch, but when that facility shut down she created her own, purchasing the equipment from her own savings. Nowadays the Christchurch-based company exports to Australia and Singapore, working with business managers in Australia and Asia, and Bennetto has added drinking chocolate powder and eating chocolate bars – the latter manufactured in Switzerland – to its organic, Fairtrade, and vegan range.
Catering to a niche market
“My personal philosophy is clean eating, not putting in a lot of stuff that shouldn’t be there. A clean and honest product, and we have the certifications to prove it.”
Bennetto had to jump through quite a few hoops to become vegan certified, proving that throughout the whole production process the products had not been near animal products: the sugar not filtered through bone char, the oranges used in her chocolate not covered with bee wax, and the coconuts not selected by monkeys.
“A lot of our customers are vegan,” says Bennetto. “They find it hard to get hold of a quality product that’s not overpriced.” She’s aware that younger people tend to be more conscious of what they eat and read labels more.
That translates into a large share of young, female, vegan followers on the company’s Instagram account, managed by an external social media manager who falls right into the demographic. She uses giveaways and collaborations with other brands with a similar focus to engage users of the platform, but Bennetto also uses offline events to raise awareness of her business and regularly sells her products at fairs and other gatherings.
She collaborates closely with her bank and recently supplied her products for the opening of BNZ’s shared workspace community101, to a Private Bank event, as well as for the staff Christmas. “I really appreciate the support BNZ has given me. It feels like I’m talking to actual people,” says Bennetto.
Getting ready for international expansion
Bennetto wants to expand to countries like Japan (by popular demand), Dubai, and the United States, but still has work to do on complying with all the different regulations. “For the US we have to change the packaging from English to American English,” explains Bennetto.
“In Dubai one element in the packaging turned out not to be compliant.” Despite receiving a fair number of enquiries from overseas, she’s learnt not to get excited about these opportunities too early.
Entering the Australian market was a smoother process. “I took quite a risky approach by placing the minimum order for my ingredients, despite not having an order confirmed,” shares Bennetto, who saw an opening to do better than the main competitor, with a high-quality product at a lower price per gram.
Her products stand out through artful packaging, with Peruvian birds, referencing the Amazonian origin of the cocoa dressed to resemble human characters. “I worked with a designer until I got it right,” says Bennetto, who has a background in art history.
“People are drawn to things they can relate to. The birds reflect the human element of the brand.”
The whole journey is a huge learning process for Bennetto, who works closely with BNZ Partner Dave Armstrong. “It’s good to have someone to talk to and get advice on all aspects of doing business,” says Bennetto, who was able to obtain financing from the bank and gains insight from Dave on things such as cashflow timing.
The focus remains in Australia and New Zealand for now, but: “I’m keeping in mind it’s a good export product,” Bennetto concludes.