Philip Poole on competing against global brands

3 August 2017

Philip Poole is the Marketing Manager at Whittaker's, a family-owned chocolate maker that exports products to Australia, Asia, and the Middle East. He explains how the Porirua-based company has succeeded in the face of formidable international competition.

Video Transcript


Whittaker's is a family-owned New Zealand company founded in 1896 by James Henry Whittaker in Christchurch. The business subsequently moved to Wellington, and the factory was situated just off Vivian Street. In 1969, the business moved out to Porirua, and that is the position of the company today.

We are still a small company in terms of the overall market and we are up against some formidable competitors in Cadbury, Lindt, Nestlé, and Mars.

0:45 A focus on quality

The thing that not only helps us not only defend our share but grow our share in markets is the quality of our chocolates. And we are absolutely rigorous about that. We are the only major chocolate company in New Zealand that imports the cocoa beans and does the roasting, refining, the whole manufacturing process through to the end product.

Andrew and Brian Whittaker, the current owners of the business, invest heavily in the factory. The quality of the machinery that we have, the refining and moulding machinery, the packaging machinery, is all world class. We use Ghanaian cocoa beans, which are amongst the best in the world, and the inclusions that we have in our products – over the years Andrew and Brian have built up the knowledge of where to source the best hazelnuts, the best almonds, the best peanuts. And we are very selective in the people that we choose for the company, and we invest heavily in the people as well.

1:56 Building a community

Social media now is a very important part of our communications. Television is still important, but that whole digital area is very important. Successful brands build a community around them, because people like to be in communities, and successful brands act as a magnet and build communities around them. And social media is very strong in helping to build those communities. We have over 700,000 followers on Facebook now, and that is a community focused on Whittaker's. And it is fabulous, because we can tell them about products that are coming out, about things that are happening within the company – and people involved in digital media love "new" news. And they love telling other people about it. And that is why it has become such a powerful communication tool for the company.

We still use television a lot, and the good thing about television is that it certainly helps drive the emotional values of the brand. And, obviously, we have had very successful campaigns using Nigella Lawson – and we can see how that has driven, particularly the creamy milk product, to become the number one chocolate selling SKU in the country now. It is a combination, and each has a role within the overall communications of the company.

3:40 Earning the trust of customers

We have been voted New Zealand's most trusted brand for the last six years, and the most loved brand for the last five years – we haven't got the 2017 results yet, but we are hopeful. It comes back to having a very clear vision – "the world eating world-class chocolate from Porirua" – and staying true to that vision.

One of our products – the berry and biscuit – has a biscuit piece in it, and we had to go to extraordinary lengths to get a biscuit piece without palm oil in it. We have to import that from the UK, believe it or not. And that costs. But it goes back to the belief of the company: we don't believe world-class chocolate should have palm oil in it. We have made a position on that, and we are consistent about it.

Intuition is very important to us. We don't do consumer research. We obviously buy retail data, but we don't do consumer research. We rely very much on the intuition and the talent of our people. I'm not saying research is wrong, but I think a lot of companies tend to hide behind research. We don't. And I think if you have the right people, the talent working on the business, use your intuition, because nobody should know your business better than you.

In the end consumers really don't know, generally, what they want. And they will play back history because that is their reference. In the end, you have to take the responsibility if you are driving a company through innovation – and the chocolate market is very much driven through innovation. Although chocolate has been around for a long time, there is still good growth in the market, and that is driven by innovation. And you get innovation through the intuition and talent of your people. That is what we believe, and that is the way that we will continue to run the company.

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