Auckland-based Thomas Dietz is the founder of the French convenience food brand TOMeTTe.
Where in France are you from and when and why did you come to New Zealand?
I'm from Paris, so a true Parisian. I spent a number of years working around the world for the beauty giant L'Oreal. I had been in a position with them in Australia for a couple of years and asked if they could send me somewhere closer to Europe, so they sent me to New Zealand! It wasn't quite the direction I was thinking, but as soon as I came here I fell in love with the country. I arrived with my wife and my very young daughter seven years ago.
How did you come to set up TOMeTTe?
I'd always wanted to create my own business; I'd done the right studies and had the right career experience, and I found the climate here for doing business was so easy, and there's a lot of support.
Being French I'm quite a foodie, and I saw a gap here in the market for convenience food that was high quality. So that's when we started TOMeTTe, starting with ready-to-eat meals. We launched on Bastille Day in 2012 and we've been really well accepted; we managed to break into 40 supermarkets quite quickly, giving us national distribution.
In 2013 we also won three NZ Food Awards, including the Supreme Award. That was a huge endorsement, which really helped us get the quality message across to consumers and was great recognition for our team.
What were some of the challenges you faced starting the business?
Being French and not from New Zealand, a big challenge was building networks. I had to work hard to get really good networks to help me at all levels, from making trade contacts to capital raising. In our first year in business we were selected to be in the incubation programme at the Icehouse, and I'm also a member of EO [Entrepreneurs' Organisation], both of which really helped.
I really love the way Kiwis network, and it's a lot easier here where there's always just one or two degrees of separation. We're about to launch a new business and through my networks I've managed form a board of directors for that. So the influence of networking has been huge because I'm getting a lot of amazing advice and help on forming this business from people with a high level of skills that are complementary to my own.
Another challenge was scaling up to produce large quantities of meals. We managed to convince a contract manufacturer to help us make our meals and soups at the beginning. The next run of help we got was from the FoodBowl. We then produced our product there for six months and that helped us understand what we'd need from our own production facility, which is what we set up six months ago.
What's next for the company? You mentioned you're launching a new business?
Yes, we're just about to launch an extension of the business and a new brand called WOOP, which stands for 'world on our plate'. It's a subscription service that home delivers semi-prepared gourmet meals, which customers can put together in 15 minutes.
This concept of home delivering meals via a subscription model is growing extremely fast globally. It's a huge concept that solves a number of problems for consumers, like finding recipes, shopping for ingredients, and in our case it also solves the problem of cooking time.
We're launching an equity crowdfunding campaign on Snowball Effect to help get some investors on board, as well as recruit some early customers and create some brand evangelists.
And we'll be launching first in Auckland this month, following quite quickly with Wellington and then we want to get national distribution in the main cities. Then once the brand is established here, we want to go to Australia quite quickly.