Waiheke woman trades elephants for herbs

Waiheke Island entrepreneur Wendy Kendall once worked as a circus elephant rider but gave it up because of the limited career development opportunities.

She's now runs her own company Waiheke Herbs which produces herbal food and skin care products.

Its range of condiments are made with fresh herbs, olive and rice bran oils, organic New Zealand sea salt and organic apple-cider vinegar.

Wild, native and Italian herb salts have also just been added to its food range.

Kendall said after a brief career as a circus elephant rider in Indonesia she moved to Waiheke Island in 1993 to study herbalism and began producing herbal products for the local market in 2003.

Waiheke Herbs, which employs Kendall, her husband and two part-time staff, manufactures up to 120 litres of herb spread every week or about 600 jars sold through Nosh, Farros Fresh and some New World supermarkets.

It's flagship product - the Waiheke Island Herb Spread originated from a healthy lunch snack Kendall made for her children. The spread, made largely of parsley, is similar to pesto found in supermarkets but without the basil, nuts or dairy products.

The condiments are manufactured at Waiheke Island's Rangihoua Estate using imported Spanish olive oil. For 10 years Waiheke Herbs has grown herbs in five 25 metre rows on a friends lifestyle block in Onetangi, Waiheke.

But Waiheke Herbs core business was manufacturing not growing and most of its herb ingredients are sourced from growers including Sunset Coast Organics near Auckland, and the Waiheke Valley Farm.

The business was growing at a rate of 20 per cent each year and had turnover of about $200,000 per year, she said.

Kendall said she wanted to grow the business by another 25 to 50 per cent while also maintaining her work/life balance.

"I don't want to get too busy. I quite like my lifestyle, having time to enjoy my family and the lifestyle I have on Waiheke."

One thing which could limit Waiheke Herbs' growth would be a reliable source of herb supply, she said.

Last year a parsley shortage affected production. Spreads in squeezable pouches have just been introduced specifically for exporting. The pouches are lighter and less likely to break in transit than the glass jars.

Why did you decide to start your own business? I trained in photolithography after leaving school and the whole industry had changed when I left to raise a family, so I needed a new career which suited my interests and lifestyle on Waiheke Island when my youngest child started school.

What's the best way of knowing whether an idea is worth pursuing? Try it on friends and family, test it in all the ground level markets that you can before working your way into larger production scales and markets. Does it tick all the boxes? Is it good for people, good for the environment and useful on a daily basis?

How important is market validation? If it isn't wanted by your customers, then forget it.

What's the best piece of business advice you've ever received? Know your real profit margins at all times.

Describe one attribute you consider essential to becoming a successful entrepreneur? Intelligent passion.

What have you sacrificed to be an entrepreneur? Housework.

What have you gained from being an entrepreneur? Skills, satisfaction and acknowledgment.

Who is your "business guru", or who do you admire, and why? Other artisan food producers because I can appreciate their journey and learn from them.