Despite a call to buy local in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, a New Zealand skincare business owner says trying to get spas to use her locally-made products is like hitting a brick wall.
Wendy Kim, director of Auckland-based beauty brand Nellie Tier and a self-proclaimed "spa and massage addict", is making it her mission to get spas here using New Zealand-made.
"I love going to massages and every where in the world I go to, spas usually use local products for treatments so people can get a total local experience... everywhere, except New Zealand," Kim said.
But after a year of reaching out to spas across the country, she has had little success - and said she almost cried when Polynesian Spa in Rotorua agreed to give her products a go.
The manager of a top Auckland spa said international brands were preferred because it offers a wider range targeting specific treatment needs and had better science support.
Kim found the conspicuous absence of New Zealand-made products in most mainstream spas "shocking", and has been trying to change this since she became co-director of Nellie Tier in June last year.
"I knocked on doors, sent emails, sent product samples, and they didn't even bother to reply," Kim said.
Kim said her challenges so far are telling of an "If it ain't broken, why fix it?" mentality that remains hard to break in businesses across the country, even as the coronavirus pandemic wreaks havoc on global supply chains, driving up the costs as well as complications of buying overseas.
The spas Kim reached out to were using creams and oils from France, Italy, and even Fiji. But not New Zealand, she added.
A post-Covid survey by Rutherford Labs showed price and quality still top consumer considerations, but being New Zealand-owned and made are gaining importance.
Executive director of the Buy New Zealand Made campaign, Ryan Jennings, said hotels and beauty operators that import beauty care are missing a key marketing touch point.
Kiwi travellers are no different from international travellers when it comes to travelling somewhere for a local experience, Jennings said.
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"And part of the experience is the products you're presented with," he said.
"It's not the be-all and end-all, but when you have a beautiful, natural New Zealand-made product and a story that goes around it, that adds another experience layer. There's a real opportunity to choose products that represent the local area."
But spa manager Cherry Chia, of Chuan Spa in Auckland's five-star Cordis hotel, said although they are big on supporting local, their priority remains finding the right product for the treatment.
The spa currently offers a combination of in-house products made in Hong Kong and well-known French brand Sothys.
Chia said they were using the now-defunct local brand NZ Spa until two years ago, when they were told the factory was shutting down.
On working with Sothys, Chia said: "Whilst the product isn't local, it's sourced by a local family business that's been around for 35 years and offering a level of service that is super local."
Chia said she remained open to using good New Zealand-made products, and will keep searching until the right product is found.
"Most local brands, including Nellie Tier, offer a generic range which doesn't work for our clients who have different demands and needs from sensitive skin, pigmentation to other concerns," she said.
"International brands like Sothys and Thalgo offer these, and have their own research and development to support the science in their products."
Polynesian Spa could not be reached for comments on why they decided to use Nellie Tier.