Dreaming big pays off for food exporter

Matt Parry had a career specialising in launching fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) products for other companies into the Australian market. But he always had an itch he wanted to scratch – starting his own company and his own brand. Five years ago he decided to do just that with the Good Crisp Company and, initially, met with mixed success for the soon-to-be food exporter.

And it was this mixed success that made him up sticks and take his wife and three young daughters to go and live in the US, where he has made a good fist of getting his product out into the market. So far it is on the shelves of more than 7,000 stores including the 4,500-plus Walmart outlets. It was a deliberate strategy, but one he felt he had to do in order to get ahead, for a variety of reasons. The Good Crisp’s offering is similar to Pringles, and that was half the problem. He knew he had a great tasting product, but felt that there were limited opportunities in Australia mainly due to the lack of outlets he could get his products on-shelf. The main reason he was given was “why would we stock your crisps when we already have a successful product on-shelf?’ It’s a problem that a lot of budding entrepreneurs come across, but one that wasn’t going to get Parry down for long.

“The reason we went to the US was because Coles and Woolies had Pringles and they didn’t see the demand for our product,” he said. “Yet, when I went to the US there was a whole natural food industry with tens of thousands of stores like Wholefoods, like Sprouts, all of these shops that won’t allow any artificial colours or flavours, MSG, or things like that in the products they sell. They don’t carry conventional brands, but they are still multi-billion dollar grocery chains with thousands of stores. They have more natural products in them.”

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To say Parry is happy with where the company is at the moment would be an understatement. Yet, when you talk him, success hasn’t come easy and there were times when he was beyond anxious. But with a little risk, and bringing investors onboard, the outlook looks great.

“We had serious cash flow issues when we first started because FMCG is such a cash heavy business,” he said. “Thankfully, I was able to beg and borrow from my existing wholesale business. We used a lot of cash from that to start the new emerging business. We eventually had to raise money via venture capitalists for our US launch. They were probably the biggest ongoing issues we had – managing cash and keeping the momentum going.”

Traditionally, especially over the past couple of decades, Australian food manufacturers have targeted the lucrative Asian market – who wouldn’t want to get a foot hold in market where there are potentially a couple of billion consumers? Yet, Parry and his team deliberately avoided the market and have no designs of exporting to the region – yet. The same goes for Europe, which until the turn of the century was another go-to place for Australian food and bev manufacturers to sell their wares.

“We decided to go straight to the US because it was all about the positioning of our product,” he said. “We are a gluten-free, better-for-you snack. That is not in demand in Asia. Australia-made and that sort of feel, and Australia products are good for Asia, but not necessarily health foods. That was one reason we didn’t go there.

“Places like China are still 10 years behind Australia as far as demand for natural and better-for-you-type products. There isn’t a big demand for gluten free, there isn’t a big demand for non-GMO, there isn’t a big demand for natural.”

That is one of the keys to the US market for the Good Crisp Co – its “better-for-you” selling point. Parry is at pains to point out that they are not spruiking it as a “healthier” product due to the idiosyncrasies of what is considered healthy or not. Thus him pushing its non-GMO, gluten-free aspects of his product. It was these points that got him in the door in the first place. How hard was it to get into the US market, and how did he actually get his food in the door?

“There is a massive trade show in the US for natural foods called ExpoWest in Anaheim, California, which we went to,” the food exporter said. “There were about 30,000 industry people coming through over the three days. I booked a table, and put my mock ups of the product on the table just to see what people would do. It was a $5000-$6,000 investment all up, and we were literally stopping people in their tracks. They would come back and say ‘is that a healthy Pringle’, or ‘is that what I think it is?’ We had retailers and brokers interested straight away.”

Parry came away with a book full of business cards and a feeling in his gut that there was a real opportunity that he needed to pursue it for the food exporter.

He spent the next year developing the product, its packaging, and making sure that he had all the ingredients were right. He had to be certain to make sure the layout was correct and then he went back the following year with the product ready to go.
“I contacted all those people I had met at the show and they said they were ready to place orders and we went from there,” he said. “We started off with 40 Wholefood stores in Northern California and it grew from there.”

Which is why the food exporter moved to Denver in January 2019. Parry intends on making the US his home for the next few years at least, if not longer. A side effect of his success in the US is that they have finally garnered some interest from Coles. However, he readily admits that he still finds the Australian market hard for a new brand to break into, and he believes that innovation is more rewarded in overseas markets than local ones. Those issues aside, does he have any advice for those just starting out in the business?

“Cashflow is the lifeblood of a business,” said the food exporter. “Make sure you spend a lot of time on that. You may be a scrappy start up but you have to make sure the money is there. It is not only the lifeblood, if you don’t have it, the business dies. But you need enough of it to keep the momentum going. There is a balance there . You need to get a lot of money, but if you have solved part A – and you have a good product – without Part B – the money – you can’t pour the gasoline on the fire. I’ve raised multi millions of dollars for this business to keep it going and I’ve seen what it takes.”

Also, you need to know your market, he said, and make sure there is a need for it. You might have what you think is the best product in the world, but if people aren’t interested in it, and there is no need for it, then you won’t get off the ground.
“With our crisps there seems to be a real emotional need for the product and I think that is important when you are starting out, regardless of the idea,” he said.

“You need to identify that emotional need. I tapped into that, and I had to see how it was going to drive and be a genuine product that can be found in the consumer’s life. We’re not curing cancer, but it was something we had to look into. It took us a while to hook into that, but once we did, it helped accelerate the business.”

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