I don’t come from this fair land of New Zealand but I like to shout about it from the rooftops often. When it comes to entrepreneurs (a term I’m still learning about) and good solid amazing stuff, this place does that really really well.

Recently five entrepreneurs from New Zealand were plucked by Asia New Zealand Foundation’s programme as part of the ASEAN Young Business Leaders Initiative to tour the Philippines meeting farmers and business leaders. The programme in Marinduque is facilitated by AGREA, an enterprise who sole principles are fair trade and sustainable agriculture and was part of the relationship building between New Zealand and the Philippines. A beautiful relationship it seems for these five businesses to create learning, understanding and new thinking.

Wellington in a box, Wellington Chocolate Factory, Pure Cafe Co, Wilding and Co and Fix and Fogg travelled to the Philippines together.

I asked some questions of the five businesses and Asia New Zealand Foundation about the trip, their expectations and moving forward.

Asia New Zealand Foundation Tour to Philippines

Questions were (and companies in bold as FF (Fix and Fogg), WB (Wellington in a Box), WC (Wellington Chocolate Factory), WC (Wilding and Co), PC (Pure Cafe Co)

  1. Who are you and what do you give us (the consumer) in NZ?

FF: I’m Roman from Fix and Fogg, a boutique peanut butter company in Wellington.

WC: Rochelle Harrison co-founder of the Wellington Chocolate Factory. We make organic, ethically traded, bean to bar chocolate of the highest quality. Every bar has a story to tell.

WB: Wellington In A Box curates the best artisan food products from Wellington and puts them in a wooden box with a packet of organic herb seeds so that people can turn it into a planter box once they have consumed all the delicious food.

Asia New Zealand Foundation Tour to Philippines

2. Apart from the obvious why is sustainability so important to your brand and what puts it aside from others?

FF: We’re really an extension of the personalities who work here and we try to do things a little differently – probably because the business has never been built around the notion of selling large amounts of peanut butter, but first and foremost loving what we do, doing it properly, and giving back to the community that supports us. We’re accredited by Conscious Consumers for our commitment to recycling and reducing food waste, and each month we donate peanut butter to a number of charities (including Ronald McDonald Houses and City Missions).

WC: 96% of chocolate makers in New Zealand buy in industrial chocolate and melt it down to make their beautiful chocolates. However most confectionary chocolate is not traceable and there is so much labour abuse within the industry and farming. We work directly with our phones as closely as we possibly can to ensure organic sustainable practices are put in place. 70% of the worlds production of chocolate comes in from Africa using high yield cocoa beans which leads to poor flavour and quality so most large chocolate manufacturers will add in vanilla to enhance the flavour. Also they will need to add in other ingredients like palm oil and cocoa fats to flow through the large machinery properly which loses pureness. It’s important to follow your supply chains to understand what you are eating and where it is coming from.

WB: We believe that the more people who are introduced to and then go on to choose a handcrafted bar of chocolate made from a single origin cacao which is purchased at a fair price (Like WC) is infinitely better than choosing a mass produced bar made from largely synthetic materials. The same is true of a hand squeezed soda syrup made from oranges from the Hawkes Bay and fennel from Mt Victoria (like Six Barrel Soda). By choosing locally produced artisan food, people are supporting the people who play an important role in keeping our food system honest. Where possible we use fair trade and organic products.

Asia New Zealand Foundation Tour to Philippines

3. Recent trip to the Philippines looked exciting! What influence will it have now on the way you do business? Will there be differences selling in NZ and then to the rest of the world?

FF: The trip to the Philippines was a first for me and a real eye opener. It was a privilege to be selected by the Asia New Zealand Foundation and gave me an opportunity to connect with a broad range of people, including Filipino social entrepreneurs, farmers and business leaders. A city like Manila with a huge population (10+ million) holds a lot of opportunities for Kiwi businesses. In New Zealand, brands often look to Australia for the next growth step but there are great opportunities in places like the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries.

WC: Like craft beer, coffee and wine there is a new movement of craft chocolate happening around the world. This is a reasonably new concept and I was excited to see the Filipinos indulging in craft chocolate with more artisan opening up. Having such a large coffee industry in New Zealand and has little way to single origin. This is how it made it a lot easier to indicate people in New Zealand on single origin chocolate. I feel there’s a lot of work to be done in the Philippines to create a stronger palate.

WB: Seeing the scale of consumers who are interested in sustainable brands made us think about trying to increase the volume of our sales and get to a larger market. We’re going to launch two lower priced options this year so more people can access Wellington’s sustainably made food.

Asia New Zealand Foundation Tour to Philippines

4. Did you know any of the brands before you left? Any thoughts on them prior to meeting?

FF: I knew the two other Wellington businesses fairly well – the Wellington Chocolate Factory and Wellington in a Box – as I had worked with both of them on a couple of occasions.  The artisan food community is pretty small, so our paths often cross. I briefly met the others, Michael Sly from Wilding & Co. (Queenstown) and Addison Dale from Pure Cafe Co. (Christchurch) in the lead up to the trip.

WB: Fix and Fogg and WCF feature in Wellington in a Box and Rochelle (WCF) and Roman (FF) and I were friends before we left. After ten days in the Philippines- we’re even better friends! I had heard about Wilding & Co and thought their business model was truly fantastic! This was solidified after meeting Michael- what a guy! I had heard of Pure Cafe after eating their with my dad one morning when visiting Christchurch. Bets green smoothie of my life.

5. Is NZ a difficult place to be successful as an entrepreneur in sustainability? Does it offer anything unique?

FF: That’s a tough question to answer but from my experience it’s an integral part of who we are at F&F, so I can’t imagine not trying to give back and make social and ethical business decisions.  At its most simple I’d like to think our customers and the wider public demand it.  For us, I hope it gives people an extra talking point when they buy a jar of our peanut butter – they’re supporting a small business trying to do the right thing.

WC: Every country is unique in their own ways as long as you’re trying to be sustainable as your business grows then you’re doing the right thing.

6. What did you learn meeting other entrepreneurs (not the NZ ones)? Did it open your eyes to anything that you can now bring back here?

FF: The Philippines is an amazing country with an interesting history and rich culture – the people were incredibly warm and welcoming.  The country has its own set of problems – large disparities in wealth and corruption – but I was pleasantly surprised to see that CSR programmes (corporate social responsibility) play a large roll in Filipino businesses.  Companies will often have their own in-house team dedicated to overseeing that the company follows through on its CRS policies.  It’s something NZ businesses could learn from.

WC: We met so many inspiring entrepreneurs in the Philippines with many different products to taste and try. They have so many more raw ingredients to work with, the variety is just about endless. There are many things I would like to look into bringing back to New Zealand. It’s not that easy to just bring back a product you need to build relationships and have good communications with the people you’re working with.

WB: Absolutely. I think I mostly learnt about operating at scale and doing big things rather than staying really small. This was particularly true of Roberto Crisostomo, founder of cacao exporting company Seed Core Enterprises and co-founder of sustainable store Ritual PH. He was amazing. I also think Filipino entrepreneurs are operating with huge challenges and so they have to be courageous.

Asia New Zealand Foundation Tour to Philippines

7. What did you know about ASEAN before you left?

FF: I had some contact with the Asia New Zealand foundation before I left – earlier in the year, I spoke at an event they ran earlier in the year about social entrepreneurism in New Zealand.

I then asked some other questions to Adel Mason (Deputy Executive Director for Asia New Zealand Foundation)

The trip. Why?
Some background – The trip was part of the ASEAN Young Business Leaders Initiative, a programme managed by the Asia New Zealand Foundation for the New Zealand Government. The programme has been running since 2012. In its first three years, nearly 50 Southeast Asian entrepreneurs visited New Zealand on tailored two-week programmes, with business matching relevant to their industries, as well as professional development. This has resulted in deals, agreements and joint ventures. In 2015 the programme was made reciprocal, enabling New Zealand entrepreneurs to visit Southeast Asia on group programmes relevant to their industries (as well as the Foundation continuing to host Southeast Asian entrepreneurs in NZ). The first New Zealand group travelled to Thailand and Singapore in May – this group comprised technology entrepreneurs.   http://www.asianz.org.nz/bulletin/entrepreneur-makes-dunedin-chiang-mai-connections The group that travelled to the Philippines was the second New Zealand group to visit. There will be a different theme to each visit. In 2015 the programme was made reciprocal, enabling New Zealand entrepreneurs to visit Southeast Asia on group programmes relevant to their industries (as well as the Foundation continuing to host Southeast Asian entrepreneurs in NZ). The first New Zealand group travelled to Thailand and Singapore in May – this group comprised technology entrepreneurs.   http://www.asianz.org.nz/bulletin/entrepreneur-makes-dunedin-chiang-mai-connections. The group that travelled to the Philippines was the second New Zealand group to visit. There will be a different theme to each visit.

What were your expectations before you left for the trip? Of the businesses you chose?
The goals of this trip were to increase the New Zealanders’ understanding of the business environment and agriculture in the Philippines, with a particular focus on social enterprise in the food and beverage sectors. We expect the participants to share their knowledge and ideas with their Southeast Asian counterparts, and to gain a deep knowledge of the country. On this trip they also got hands-on and planted trees!

Why did you choose these out of so many doing good stuff in NZ? Particularly those with a sustainable edge? The Asia New Zealand Foundation made a public call for applications (via our website, social media and our contacts) and the selected participants were chosen on the basis of the strength of the applications they submitted.

What makes NZ different to other countries? Is it a leader in sustainability moving forward? What can it do to improve? What are it’s strong points?
The Foundation has noticed that when Southeast Asian entrepreneurs visit New Zealand through the ASEAN Young Business Leaders Initiative, many have been particularly impressed by the focus on sustainability shown by their Kiwi counterparts. We have had quite a number of companies with a sustainability focus meet with visiting entrepreneurs from Asia, and a genuine warmth is often built up.

How do you think trip will add value for those working in the Philippines and those who visited from NZ?
The visit built worthwhile connections and networks between the social entrepreneurship sectors in New Zealand and the Philippines.  The New Zealanders also gained a great understanding of the business culture in the Philippines and had a rich cultural experience due to the strong Filipino involvement in all aspects of the programme. If they’re travelling to the Philippines for work in the future, they have a good network of Filipinos to call on for help and advice. For instance, Roman Jewell (Fix and Fogg) is looking at exporting his product there and Rochelle Harrison (Wellington Chocolate Factory) is working on an agreement with cacao farmers – more info here: http://www.asianz.org.nz/bulletin/social-entrepreneurs-connect-philippines. The programme was organised in partnership with AGREA, a social enterprise founded on the principles of fair trade and sustainable agriculture. Its founder, Cherrie Atilano, visited New Zealand in 2015 through the ASEAN Young Business Leaders Initiative. New Zealander Rachel Espejo, a member of the Asia New Zealand Foundation’s Leadership Network, is AGREA’s director of partnerships and advocacy marketing and also helped with arrangements. In terms of what the Filipinos gained from the experience – the New Zealanders shared their start-up stories at an event in Manila.  They also participated in a strategy session with AGREA, talking about best practice and the NGO’s future strategy.   Some of the biggest benefits are idea-sharing and ongoing connections.

Future plans?
We’ll be taking two groups of New Zealand entrepreneurs to Southeast Asia this year – definitely one to Indonesia and we’re still deciding the other country. And we’ll be welcoming at least 10 entrepreneurs from Southeast Asia to New Zealand through the ASEAN Young Business Leaders Initiative.

Thank you all businesses for your time!

Fix and Fogg
Wilding & Co
Wellington In A Box
Wellington Chocolate Factory
Pure Cafe Co

Asia New Zealand Foundation.