Small Business: Peter Cullinane - Lewis Road Creamery

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Export is the next step for artisan dairy brand which is less than a year old and already turning a profit.

Peter Cullinane is considering a market float in the next 12 months for his artisan butter company, Lewis Road Creamery. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Peter Cullinane is considering a market float in the next 12 months for his artisan butter company, Lewis Road Creamery. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Peter Cullinane, co-founder of the premium butter manufacturer Lewis Road Creamery, has a dream that one day his artisan butter will be flown to top restaurants worldwide as happens with the Buerre Bordier of French artisan Jean-Yves Bordier.

"We have got to do the same thing," says Cullinane.

The entrepreneur is no idle dreamer. He is the co-founder of Antipodes Water, a board member of SkyCity Entertainment Group and was formerly chief operating officer of Saatchi & Saatchi worldwide. Since 2002, he has had his own creative strategy company, Assignment Group.

Cullinane and business partner Andrew Railton launched Lewis Road Creamery last July, initially manufacturing the butter near the Antipodes bottling plant in Otakiri. They are now making it from the Kaimai Cheese Plant in Waharoa where there is butter-making expertise and a good milk supply.

Though the company is not yet a year old, Cullinane is contemplating a flotation in the next 12 months with the help of his "smart finance guy", recent shareholder Stephen Panckhurst, a company director.

"One direction is to go to fund managers and the other is to do a Moa. My gut is to do a float. I love the idea," says Cullinane.

"One of the things that makes Lewis Road very interesting is it's profitable already," he says. The next 12 months' sales target of 300,000 packs is double the current run rate. Turnover in the next 12 months, meanwhile, should total $1.5 million in retail sales.

"We want to be the premium dairy brand in the country. No one is in this space," he says. "It was crazy that the best butter in New Zealand was from Denmark."

Early on, the ad-man sought advice from Ross McCallum, founder of Kapiti Cheese, who devised the original Lewis Road premium butter recipe from a blend of more than 10 Fonterra export butters.

The butter was runner-up for the Cuisine Artisan Award 2013. "What makes the butter work is the taste, the consistency," says Cullinane.

Lewis Road's artisan butter, made of 100 per cent jersey cream, is due to be taken around the country in the next three weeks.

Mike Lawson, the cheesemaker at Kaimai, is taking over the butter-making from Lewis Road co-founder Andrew Railton.

The artisan butter is in restaurants such as The Grove and The Engine Room and is likely to be stocked in outlets "where they take their food seriously", Cullinane says. Food specialists such as Farro Fresh and Sabato are likely stockists.

The Lewis Road brand, meanwhile, has been in supermarkets almost since day one, priced at about $5.80 for a 250g pack. Victoria Park New World owner-manager Jason Witehira has been an excellent supporter, says Cullinane, encouraging his colleagues in Auckland to stock it and enabling Lewis Road to reach central distribution at Foodstuffs. "It was a huge turning point," says Cullinane. The brand is now also in Progressive Enterprises supermarkets.

Exporting is a real opportunity, says Cullinane, who is meeting distributors in Sydney this month.

Also on the cards are two new products: a clotted cream and double-cream, without thickeners.

"At the moment Fonterra look at us and say, 'That's nice, there's something good happening in dairy.' Once we get to a 10-15 per cent market share, they may not see it like that," says Cullinane.

- NZ Herald

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