Creating a fast-growing plant-based food business
Latesha Randall owns one of the most acclaimed sustainable small food businesses in Australasia – and it grew out of an allergy. Her partner is allergic to dairy products, and she couldn't find a palatable dairy-free yoghurt for sale in supermarkets in her native New Zealand. So, she created her own. That was in 2014. Now, her Raglan Food Co is a leading producer of plant-based food products, exporting to Singapore, Hong Kong and the UAE, among others, and is a certified B Corporation, which means it meets high standards of performance, accountability and transparency. It’s also carbon neutral and the winner of numerous accolades, including the Gourmet and People's Choice categories in the 2015 NZ Food Awards and the Micro Business category in the 2016 Westpac Waikato Business Awards.
“People are looking to have a better environmental impact with their diet and don’t want to hurt animals, as well as reduce plastic – we’re in a glass jar,” Randall says of her flagship Natural Greek-Style plant-based coconut yoghurt. Those are the main drivers of her business, but they would not work without one key element which is the taste. Randall truly believes that her products are as good or better than dairy yoghurts.
When she started her company, frustrated at the lack of palatable options on the market, she made the product herself. She looked around for recipes, and began tinkering them – including one coconut cream-based recipe. Randall made a large batch of the yoghurt and offered the excess for sale to locals in her small coastal town, Raglan, on the North Island. She posted a listing on the local Facebook group. Sixty people replied, all wanting a jar.
Randall was taken aback: she only had two jars. But it suggested to her that there was unmet demand, so she started handmaking more yoghurt to fulfil those orders. Instead of buying plastic containers, she gathered jars from a recycling centre, peeled off the labels and cleaned them, making small batch after small batch in her home cookware. “Everyone picked it up and they loved it.” The hobby quickly turned into a business. The company, christened Raglan Food Co, moved out of Randall’s home into a shipping-container kitchen, then a 200 sq m building nearby, then an 800 sq m one – but has since outgrown that, now shifting to a 1,500 sq m facility.
The company has a team of 30 people, and is the largest dairy-free yoghurt business in New Zealand. It’s also the first zero-carbon yoghurt company in the country1. This decision is one that other entrepreneurs may not have made were they in Randall’s shoes, favouring profit over purpose. But for her there was no choice. “That’s been the flaw in the way of doing business for a long time now,” remarks Randall. “We’re collectively paying for that now: climate change is here, and it’s hitting communities, countries and the price of goods. It’s affecting everything.”
She’s also concerned that those issues are ramping up. “I think for a long time we’ve been outsourcing our problems to the planet and making it pay for us.” Randall believes that more businesses will have to pursue a purpose-driven model in future because of the realities of life under the climate emergency. “It’s going to be expected from them, by society and by governments.”
Doing that comes with its own challenges. “It can be quite discouraging,” Randall admits. Even with the best intentions, simply finding the options that can make a business work in a purposeful, environmentally friendly way is a tough ask. The main ingredient in Raglan Food Co’s yoghurt is coconut cream, which is shipped to New Zealand from Indonesia (New Zealand doesn’t grow coconuts). That generates carbon emissions that require offsetting, which costs money. Likewise, when considering international expansion – which Randall has on her to-do list for the future of the firm – she must evaluate whether the glass jars in which her product is packed can be recycled elsewhere.
Not every export market that Raglan Food Co ships to has the same recycling capabilities. “In New Zealand, we’re recovering 75 per cent of glass used,” she explains. “In Europe, it’s as high as 95 per cent. In the US it averages about 33 per cent across the country, which is exceptionally low by global standards. In Asia, it varies from very low, 20 per cent, in China and Singapore to 92 per cent in Taiwan.”
Likewise, the company is looking at launching a pouch-based product for lunchboxes, but finding a reliable, sturdy, biodegradable and compostable pouch is difficult. Until they can find the right packaging for it, they’re leaving the product undeveloped – and leaving the opportunity unexplored.
However, the company continues to expand, with future global growth expected in the coming years – buoyed by its like-minded staff and a purpose that’s bigger than business: to help save the planet in the little time left to do so. “People are savvy,” Randall continues. “They’re switched on. They care about this stuff a lot more than you think. There’s a lot of momentum.” And that’s something she’s determined to capitalise on.
Biography / key highlights
2014 Makes the first big batch of dairy-free coconut cream yoghurt in her home kitchen, and offers the excess to her local community. The demand for more is huge, and Raglan Food Co launches
2015 Winner of the People’s Choice categories in the NZ Food Awards
2016 Winner of the Micro Business category in the Westpac Waikato Business Awards
2018 Becomes the first carbon-zero certified yoghurt company in New Zealand
2022 Products are stocked in more than 700 stores, mostly in NZ but also in Asia