Richard King, founder of premium snack brand Moonbar, explains how a trip to Malaysia ended up with his company landing its first export market.

What does your business do?

NZ Goodness makes wholefood energy bars and started in July 2013. There's one brand in the market currently, Moonbar, which is a premium handmade energy bar and there's another brand that we will be bringing to the market called In The Wild which is another wholefood energy bar aimed at children's lunch boxes.

What was the motivation for starting it?

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I've got a background in finance and I was working in Auckland CBD for a finance company and I got sick of eating scones, muffins and brioches for morning and afternoon tea, I didn't like the way they were starting to make me feel so I started making my own slice.

The more I looked around for a healthy, natural alternative the more frustrated I became and saw the current snack options in the market are pseudo-healthy snacks, produced by large companies that have colourful pictures of a product on the front but when you break it down, shouldn't even be legal.

I just wanted to eat real food, food that I could actually identify the ingredients that I was eating and that I could understand the ingredients on the ingredients list. If the snack product was called almond and cranberry, almond had to be the main ingredient of the ingredient list, not down low on the food list.

How big is your team?

This is now my full-time job and it is just me. I try to contract out as much as I can. The product is made by a contract manufacturer under licence, they are my recipes. I didn't have the capital to invest in a commercial kitchen at the time so I had to approach contract manufacturers.

What do you think of the snacks currently available in the market?

A lot of snack foods are made through the process of extrusion. When you extrude food it's like making a sausage or pouring a coffee, you're pushing the ingredients through a small funnel and you have to apply heat and pressure to do that, and that changes the molecular structure of the ingredients so where possible it is healthier to eat whole foods that haven't been processed in any form. Companies don't have to declare to consumers any processing aids that have been used in the production of food, which is a real concern.

What's special about your snack bars?

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Moonbar has a premium nut which forms the basis of each recipe whether its almond, pistachio or hazelnuts and each of the bars is a true reflection of the main ingredient that's in the product. I brought the product to market five years ago.

I ripped out Metro's top 50 cafe list, which they put out every year, as an initial potential distribution list and I just walked around these cafes in central Auckland asking if they'd give me a leg up and the response was really positive and that gave me the confidence to step out and approach some specialty food retailers.

From there I quickly learned that if you're making and selling food it is all about volume so you need to be in the supermarkets so from there, over time, I approached Foodstuffs and Progressive Enterprises. Moonbars are now sold in selected New World and Countdown supermarkets in New Zealand.

How hard was it for you to find a manufacturer?

Finding the right contract manufacturer was an exercise in perseverance in itself.

It took a good nine months to find the right entity, someone who would back me and who would be able to do smaller production runs. Finding a business that makes food in Auckland or close by was difficult and making an appointment, going and see them, seeing if they have the capability to actually make the product, and then, can they make it for a price that is going to work, was hard.

Personally, I had to analyse all the costs of the ingredients and understand to the cent what the price was to make the products and the quantities that went into one bar and the labour component and negotiating with the manufacturer. With food, quite often you've got to work from the customer back, you have to understand what would be a reasonable price point for the end consumer.

What are your long-term plans?

The plan is to create a multinational company with excellent distribution channels in a number of countries. Last year I was selected to go on a trip with the Asia New Zealand Foundation to Malaysia and Singapore. They have a Young Business Leaders initiative and they select a small group of what they deem to be business leaders to offer them an experience in South East Asia for a few days and I went in Penang and Kuala Lumpur.

Moonbars are contract manufactured under licence. Photo / Supplied
Moonbars are contract manufactured under licence. Photo / Supplied

We teamed up with NZTE Food Show and from there I was fortunate to meet a very strong distributor who took an interest in the product. Off the back of that we've started exporting to Malaysia now, and we've had multiple reorders, so after the third reorder you can fairly say there is a market there for the product. That was a big deal for me as it was the first export order. Our product is sold in pharmacy chain Watsons throughout Malaysia.

What other markets are your products sold in?

Australia and that opportunity came about through talking to another one of the business leaders on the trip. Our products are sold in five states in Australia. Australia is a really important market and the focus is to grow that and continue with Malaysia. The other focus is capital raising options and so that will then allow NZ Goodness to commercialise the recipes we have for In The Wild, expand that range, bring it to the market and explore other markets.

How has the product been received in Malaysia?

It has exceeded my expectations and I never thought Malaysia would be my first export order - I never thought I'd receive an export order from Malaysia first up. It's been interesting and was about being in the right place at the right time.

How long have you been supplying the Wuhan Open tennis tournament?

The Wuhan Open is a big deal, it's big prize money and the world's top 50 female tennis players are invited to attend. The Women's Tennis Association have to sign off on the product and this will be the fourth year we are supplying them. I feel it's quite remarkable for a small New Zealand business to supply products into an international tennis event and have its bars consumed by big-name tennis players.

What advice do you give to others thinking of starting their own business?

Everything takes longer than you would expect, so be patient.

For the short time I've been a business owner, it appears to be about meeting the right people who can take you to the next level but you do have to kiss a lot of frogs to get there.