Small business: Winds of opportunity drive Zeffer

By Gill South

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Christchurch quake dealt valuable lesson in maintaining cashflow for a fast-growing business during a crisis.

Zeffer shareholders Sam Whitmore, Josh Townsend and Hannah Bower in their new cider brew house in Silverdale.  Photo / Greg Bowker
Zeffer shareholders Sam Whitmore, Josh Townsend and Hannah Bower in their new cider brew house in Silverdale. Photo / Greg Bowker

Joshua Townsend, one of three shareholders at organic craft cider business Zeffer, knows a thing or two about the risks of running a small business, thanks to his father.

Peter Townsend is head of the Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce and when chamber staff moved into the family home after the February 2011 earthquake, Joshua's childhood bedroom was taken over by coffee machines and computer equipment.

Father and son have talked about the challenges of maintaining a good cashflow in a fast-growing business during a crisis, something many Christchurch businesses grappled with after the quakes.

Fast growth ties up cashflow, but you have to make the most of opportunities, says the marketing graduate who is in charge of marketing, sales and exports at Zeffer.

"I guess adversity only makes your business stronger. We have not been without our struggles operating on tight cashflow, being efficient with resources."

Townsend, 24, joined Zeffer founders Sam Whitmore and Hannah Bower two years ago when he was still playing rugby for Auckland's ITM Cup side. He tasted the cider at the Matakana market. "I thought it was a brilliant brand, one I wanted to get involved with," he says.

Whitmore and Bower started Zeffer in Matakana in 2009. Whitmore was an experienced winemaker while Bower came from a marketing and sales background. Their intention was to create a premium craft cider, launching on the cusp of what Townsend calls the "cider revolution".

"We saw a real gap in the market for a drier and premium cider not made from a concentrate," says Townsend. Zeffer crushes fruit at its own facility, creating a drier style beverage without adding cane sugar, artificial flavourings or colours.

The range is Zeffer Apple Cider, Zeffer Pear Cider and a premium cider called Slack Ma Girdle - made from 53 different cider apples. The apple and pear ciders can be drunk with food as an alternative to sauvignon wine, while Slack Ma Girdle could be seen as a champagne substitute, says Townsend. The company has been using events such as Fashion Week and Taste Festivals to raise awareness of its products.

Four years on, Zeffer - from zephyr, a term for light breeze - is distributed in restaurants such as Clooney, Cafe Hanoi and Logan Brown and sells in New World supermarkets. Its first retailer was Farro Fresh, still a strong customer.

The brand is exported to Australia and the US and Asia is a future possibility, although the company is likely to develop a new product for that market. Zeffer has found export markets by aligning itself with craft beer producers, says Townsend. "They have been incredibly helpful."

The company sees plenty of expansion opportunity in New Zealand, in grocery and in on-premise outlets such as bars and restaurants.

To keep up with its ambitious growth plan of producing 200,000 litres this year, Whitmore, Bower and Townsend are looking for a new shareholder, who could take up a role in the business possibly in finance or operations. "We are not after a silent investor," says Townsend.

Four new product releases are planned this year and the management team has moved the business to bigger premises in Silverdale.

- NZ Herald

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