Small Business: Peter Cullinane - Lewis Road Creamery

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Peter Cullinane, co-founder of Lewis Road Creamery premium butter and co-founder of Antipodes Water. He is 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.

Butter pioneer and Lewis Road Creamery founder Peter Cullinane. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Butter pioneer and Lewis Road Creamery founder Peter Cullinane. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Launching a product into a crowded market

People have to have a chance to notice a new product, otherwise they'll never have the opportunity to try it. So standing out from the crowd is rule number one.

With Lewis Road Creamery, we choose a pack design that was different in shape to other butters and used silver foil as opposed to paper. The design itself is timeless. We wanted something that could have been designed today or fifty years ago and would still look great fifty years hence.

Most important of all though, we wanted our packaging to reflect the quality of the butter inside. We proudly called it Premium New Zealand Butter and delivered exactly that. The product itself has to be as good as the promise. This was our single greatest point of difference and opportunity. New Zealanders simply weren't getting the quality of butter they deserved and New Zealand should be making it.

Understanding your Goliath

Goliath was the champion of the Philistines. So that's what we're up against.

People who simply don't "get it". It's the classic story of New Zealand sending all its best product overseas, often as commodities and failing to realise that there is a growing and discerning market for quality products right here. Rather than focusing on cutting costs, usually by reducing quality, we're the little "David" that's keen to champion quality over quantity.

Fonterra is not so much a Goliath as a colossus. We're tiny in comparison. At the individual level, Fonterra has been really helpful. At a corporate level, we're playing a different game. Fonterra tends to focus on technology as a way of maximising the value of their production - look at the new Anchor light proof bottle - whereas we believe the answer lies in a focus on the quality of the product itself.

Supermarket entry

Supermarkets account for the vast majority of food purchases. We're in both Countdown and New World which between them sell about $120 million of butter a year. If we couldn't get listed in supermarkets, we would forever be a fringe player. We believe in a simple mantra of eat better, eat less.

We've also had great support from day one from the best high-end food stores like Farro Fresh and Sabato in Auckland, Moore Wilson in Wellington and Mercato in Christchurch. And huge support, too, from quality restaurants.

Size matters

We want to be big. We see no impediment to growth by offering quality. In fact we think quantity or size will come from quality but quality will never come from a focus on quantity. If New Zealanders love the quality of our butter, why not other markets New Zealand has traditionally sold to? The big difference, we believe, is that our butter is exactly what discerning customers in those markets are looking for, Premium New Zealand Butter.

Learning from a previous David and Goliath situation

Antipodes Water, in which I am a founding shareholder, was my first experience of creating, with others, a wonderful premium brand to take on the Italian and French imports and then taking our water to the world. The thinking behind the launch was simple - why shouldn't New Zealand have the world's best bottled water?

From that experience I learned where there's a will there's a way. It's an expression I've always lived by (if not always up to!). If you really believe in something, you can make it happen. With Antipodes, we were babes in the wood really. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into but that was actually a strength. We learnt as we went and we're still learning. If we had over analysed and over thought things, we'd never have taken the plunge.

Tips to other challenger brands

For me, having something you can physically hold in your hand, unlocks a world of potential. If you've got the glimmer of an idea, create a mock up. Something you can imagine sitting on a shelf, in a shopping basket, in a kitchen and on the table.

Then work back from there and figure out what it's going to take to realise your vision.

Don't think you have to do it all by yourself. People are often generous with their time and knowledge. Pepe Saya, an artisan butter maker in Sydney, said to me: "There are only two rules. One, you always help others and two, you don't knock the competition."

Give it everything you've got. I think the reason there are so few people who actually get out there and back themselves is fear of failure and looking foolish.

Get over yourself! And most of all, believe passionately in what you're doing.

Never give it a moment's rest.


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:

- NZ Herald

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