Tell us about Karma Cola. How have you made it have the cola taste?
By using real cola nut from the home of cola, Sierra Leone. Most colas are made with artificial flavours. We use the whole cola nut and take an extract from that, which gives Karma Cola a unique and original flavour.
How did you make sure you could please consumers who are very picky about their cola taste?
We did a lot of tasting with the market before we launched the product including some of the main cafes we were hoping to work with. We worked on the recipe for about six months before coming to the final result. For us it was about creating a authentic cola experience using all natural ingredients. To achieve that flavour, Karma Cola's original recipe combines natural spices; cinnamon, nutmeg and coriander with lemon, lime and orange oils, real vanilla bean from Papua New Guinea and organically grown and processed sugar cane Paraguay.
What storytelling are you doing to educate consumers about the product?
The provenance of the ingredients is a really important part of our story.
Connecting people back to the people who grow their food and drink.
We're very keen to connect the growers of our ingredients with our consumers. Later in the year we'll be visiting our growers in Sierra Leone to connect back with them and tell their story. We're working with a locally based NGO to establish a fund to support communities growing the cola nut. One of the first projects that will be funded by part of the proceeds of sales of the drink will be a bridge in the Boma Village. This will help us to show our consumers how the decisions they make in NZ can have a positive impact of small growers on the other side of the world.
How big would you like it to be?
We're not embarrassed about having ambitions to be big. It's really important for ethical businesses to be financially sustainable too. It's a win win. The more products that we sell the greater the positive outcomes for the growers and the environment.
We've managed to get into heaps of cool cafes, restaurants and bars around the country.
We've made a company decision not to go straight into supermarkets so we can really focus on supporting our small owner-operated food and beverage outlets.
Who are your main competitors? How have they responded to your product?
Our main competitors are Coke and Phoenix Organics. Naturally no one likes to lose shelf space and both are probably a little intimidated by the new kid on the block. We've noticed that Phoenix have really stepped up their advertising campaign around 'good' recently, which of course is very close to our All Good brand, in the market for three years. Copying is a compliment. Although we don't have the ability to spend like the multinationals such as Coke (Coca-Cola Amatil) and Phoenix (Asahi Japan) we have made enormous gains through creativity and a genuine point of difference.
How are you introducing the product to consumers?
We're using word of mouth, being seen in the right places and social media to get out there.
How big is your marketing budget? What cost effective ways are you using to spread the word about Karma Cola?
We don't have one. So we have to think creatively around how we get the product out there. We've donated a lot of product to events and brands that we think fit well with our brand, for instance music, fashion or launch parties to get people hooked.
How have NZ consumers responded to the drink and are you looking at international markets as well?
Incredibly well. We now have distributors in both Melbourne and Sydney and even sent a couple of pallets to Macau. We believe that the Karma Cola brand has an appeal that resonates internationally. People like it because it's original and it looks good and tastes great.
Having launched other challenger brands before, what did you learn from that experience?
I started Phoenix Organics in 1985. I am currently involved with All Good Bananas, Kokako and Nice Blocks. Small business is guaranteed to have down times but it can be really rewarding if it aligns with your values and you're willing to hang in there.
What tips would you give to other small businesses wanting to do their own (better) version of a well known product?
Have integrity and make sure that you believe in what you're doing. Never be embarrassed to ask for advice. People on the whole are very generous and happy to share their experiences.
How should you make trade shows work for your business? Why they can work so well for SMEs especially those trying to make new contacts overseas. Email me, Gill South at the link below: