That's the way the cookie crumbles
From a Main South Road factory and retail shop base, Christchurch's Cookie Time has stretched its chocolate-laced tentacles across New Zealand and beyond.
Asia is another outlet for the manufacturer that three years ago launched a retail "flagship" Cookie Bar outlet in Queenstown.
The products reach most New Zealand consumers through a distribution chain that includes 6000 outlets including supermarkets, cafes and dairies.
General manager Lincoln Booth has been with the privately owned company for eight years. During that time he has seen consistent revenue growth surrounding what now totals 44 products to an annual figure of about $30 million.
Not bad for a sweet snack that is usually bought on impulse.
Cookie Time is celebrating its 30th year since it was set up by Michael Mayell in a one-bedroom flat. Six months later he was joined by his brother Guy Mayell, with the original factory site in Wickham St, Bromley.
"[Michael] was looking for a business idea, and saw that cookies were pretty prominent in America. He fell in love with the cookie shops over there and thought it would be a good concept to bring back," Booth says.
"He worked through the recipe and played in his mum's kitchen. He was definitely an entrepreneur and looked at the opportunity."
Mayell, then in his early 20s, loaded up his Mini Clubman van to deliver to dairies in the city. Today a Mini still sits in front of the Templeton single storey factory shop.
The brothers remain joint owners of the business, which now has around 100 employees and three brands including Cookie Time, Bumper Bar and One Square Meal. Ingredients are sourced locally where they can be, including chocolate from Christchurch-based Richfields and butter from Westland Milk Products.
In the last five years the brothers have invested a further $5 million in automation for the sole New Zealand manufacturing factory. Branding, including the Cookie Muncher character, product innovation and understanding customers has been another focus in that period, Booth says. Funding comes through cashflow and bank debt.
The site, incorporating a state-of-the-art Italian automated cookie manufacturing equipment, runs a 10-hour shift from Monday to Friday producing around 400,000 cookies a week. The new equipment doubled throughput.
Forty-two franchisees distribute the cookies to supermarkets and other outlets within their regions.
The site has room to expand the manufacturing base, and the Mayell brothers own some nearby land held through some property trusts.
Booth is passionate about the steps the cookie maker has taken to widen its footprint, including the Queenstown retail outlet in Camp St which has seen double digit revenue growth year on year. "You could get caught up in a wave of excitement. [But] just because you've got a good store in Queenstown doesn't mean you're now going to open up a shop in Dunedin or Wellington."
Despite the caution behind Cookie Time's own retail expansion, there is a strategy ahead, Booth says.
"When we started three years ago in Queenstown our grandiose vision . . . this was going to be our global plan to take the Cookie Time plan into other countries."
Some cookies are snacked on by Air New Zealand domestic flight passengers. Previously the producer supplied Qatar Airways for a year.
Cookie Time is making progress in Japan on a site based on the cookie bar concept.
Developing an export strategy also means ongoing work on trademarks around the Cookie Time brand.
Auckland-based patent attorneys James & Wells is helping with this process. "We spend a lot of time and money with our IP [intellectual property], we've got such a strong brand in New Zealand we know it can be transported."
The Queenstown store concept often drew interest from visitors to the Central Otago location. "We've got active conversations happening up in Asia . . . most days we are getting inquiries from overseas customers wanting to know more about the [potential] retail franchises."
There has been some thought to entering the Australian market, but Booth says supplying the supermarkets, for example, would require deep pockets. "I think the strategy would be to go in and start with the convenience channel . . . petrol stations and the dairies, setting up a bottom-up distribution network as opposed to a bottom down."
Shelf life management is a significant issue if the company wants to take its cookies further afield.
The research team is investigating how to get cookies to market without the use of artificial ingredients.
"If our model is to export frozen cookies or dough to Australia [to be cooked on site], then that's what we'd look at, potentially."
Booth has a retail background, particularly in sales and franchising.
He worked for NBR Rich Lister Diane Foreman's Emerald Group when the company was taking over New Zealand Natural icecream.
He also worked as South Island manager for New Zealand Dairy Foods before it became part of the Fonterra group.
"We [at Cookie Time] are of course wholesalers and when you take your wholesale cap into retail it's certainly a different proposition. You've got to bring a creative mindset to retail . . . the heart and soul of the store is based on the five senses . . . you'll go in and it's not really about the cookies, it's about the experience that you're going to receive and the service you'll get instore, it's the feeling the tasting, the hearing. We've got certain touch points, They're baking cookies on site for a start," Booth says.
"In wholesale you're going to people, peddling your wares. Whereas in retail you're waiting for people to walk in the door. And that's the fundamental difference - how do you attract people from the street into your environment, and then get them to purchase?"
A lot of elements work together to lure customers into the store.
"There's the fantastic sounds that come from outside that provide the rhythm and the beat, you've got the smell and aroma of the cookies as they're being baked on site, you've got what we call our cookie connectors which is our girls out in the front offering free samples, connecting with customers.
"You've got the windows opening out to the street front so you've got the whole inside-outside engagement."
Cookie Time's expertise in the food business was recognised in Champion Canterbury Business Awards in 2013 and in 2010. The company took out the Champion Producer-Manufacturer medium-large categories on both occasions.
The Templeton factory experienced s little earthquake-related damage, Booth says, with 30 metres of gravel under the buildings. Despite only "cosmetic" damage the company will strengthen the building "to bring it up to code".