Haman Shahpari, co-founder of niche "healthy" ice cream brand WaHiki Creamery, talks creating a unique product and selling into a crowded market.
What does your business do?
We're an Epsom-based ice cream company called WaHiki which means 'time out' in Maori that was established in October 2016. We did our first production of the first flavour in the December, which at the time nobody wanted to know us being a small company with one flavour of ice cream, but last year we released three more flavours which was Chocolate, Mango and Matcha - Japanese green tea - with banana. All our ice creams are dairy-free, gluten-free and vegan, and we are currently the only ice cream that has been certified by Coeliac New Zealand. Our products are also halal and are sold in around 150 stores.
What was the motivation for starting the business?
We found a gap in the market when we started the ice cream business because we saw there are people who can't eat ice cream for different reasons such as lactose intolerance, high-sugar quantities and gluten so we set out to make a premium ice cream that is suitable for everyone.
Our ice cream is made with coconut milk instead of cows milk which adds a coconut flavour but, from the feedback we've had, it is quite a subtle taste, not over-powering.
How big is your team?
It's just two people - me and Sergio Figueroa. We're three partners who own the business but just two of us run it.
What are you currently focused on?
We just launched a world's first ice cream flavour of Coconut Turmeric Latte, which is apart of our motto to stay away from all the me too flavours that everyone offers like the hokey pokeys and salted caramels and chocolate chips.
We want to move away from those flavours and make ice cream that is more holistic, artisan and wholesome. The Turmeric ice cream has Turmeric, ginger, cinnamon and black pepper, and it has less than 10 grams of sugar. For the small tubs $4.50 and the big ones are between $8 to $10.
What's your background?
I came to New Zealand in November 2003 and I'm originally Iranian. I've got a diverse background. I've worked for many big, multinational companies, mostly in packaging and chemicals. By trade, I'm a chemical engineer and marine biologist but I decided to take a leap and try something myself for myself.
What are your long term plans for Wahiki?
The long term plan for WaHiki is to become a global, household brand. When I wanted to establish the company, I Googled WaHiki to make sure that nobody else was using the name and Google turned around and said: 'Did you mean Waiheke Island', so for me that was a good enough reason to say if one day in the future somebody goes to Google to search Waiheke Island and it asks them 'Did you mean WaHiki Ice Cream' which means Wahiki Ice Cream has become bigger than Waiheke Island brand that means I've done my job well, and that's the ambition.
Where did the inspiration to call the business Wahiki come from?
I'd been trying to find a name to give the business a Kiwiana feel and therefore with the name I wanted people to recognise that the product comes from New Zealand no matter what corner of the world it is in. One day I was looking at all of the words that people have given us in the feedback groups that we have run about what do you feel about ice cream when you eat it, and a couple of the words that came out of that were divine and time out.
Someone said they take time out to have an ice cream so I looked these words up in Maori and one that really stuck with me was the work WaHiki.
What's the biggest challenge you face operating in this market?
We're competing against big companies. Although veganism and healthy living and eating is a trend now, starting up as a small company with limited resources and competing with players who lots of time and resources, is quite a challenge. The only thing that is making us different is our want to do things better and filling those niche gaps in the market.
What advice do you give to others thinking of starting their own business?
If you're thinking of doing something, don't doubt your capabilities - just do it.