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Catherine Beard meets Antipodes founder Elizabeth Barbalich and learns the formula for building a global natural brand.

I was lucky enough to chat with Antipodes founder Elizabeth Barbalich recently, and gleaned some invaluable nuggets of wisdom from her experience building a global natural brand.

One thing that stood out to me is the planning involved.

Before Elizabeth launched the business 12 years ago she first undertook two years of research, planning and strategy around what brands were on the market; how hers could be different and stand out in a very competitive marketplace. Elizabeth’s aim was to launch a niche, organic lifestyle beauty brand with a point of difference that was about lifting the lid and escaping to nature in New Zealand.

With a science background, and having worked for ten-plus years for the American company that introduced laparoscopic (keyhole) surgery, Elizabeth had learnt a lot about best practice and making sure you’re best in class. Her husband is also a self-made man, who understands the ‘ups and downs’ of entrepreneurship and how to keep going through the challenges.

However, Elizabeth says it has still been much harder than she ever could have imagined and there have been some big lessons along the way. “I was adamant from day one that I would export straight away, almost bypassing the New Zealand market. But that proved to be a bad strategy,” she says.

“So instead we spent the first two to three years concentrating on building brand loyalty one person at a time. I was the face of the brand, and I still am. Getting people to understand the brand and getting the domestic market right first was critical for exporting. That meant failing fast with anything that didn’t work, getting all the necessary feedback and building confidence.

“It would be extremely difficult to export straight off the bat without a domestic market and a loyal baseline of followers,” says Elizabeth.

Australia was chosen as the first export market. “That was like being on a different planet!” she recalls. “Even though it’s close to New Zealand, they do business very differently. You need to be really clear on your brand messaging and point of difference.”

Following Australia, Antipodes has conquered the UK, Paris, and Southeast Asia, developed China through e-commerce, and is now in more than 20 countries. But it’s not been easy, especially with two distributors going under through the GFC.

Looking forward, Elizabeth says they are aiming to be in the top 10 natural brands globally within the next five years. I’ve no doubt they will succeed.

Catherine Beard is executive director of ExportNZ.

Elizabeth’s top tips:

  • Trade shows – we’ve picked up distributors at key trade shows, but you have to then meet up with them two or three times before signing. You need to make this investment as market entry is so hard. You can’t sell directly to retailers from New Zealand.
  • Tenacity – be incredibly tenacious. International distributers and retailers don’t care that a product’s from New Zealand – that’s just a value-add. They want products that are better quality and deliver more to the consumer than any other brand. For Antipodes the main selling point was one of our trademarks: “Scientifically validated organic beauty”. We invest a couple of million a year into in-vitro and third party product testing. This validation is unique for a natural organic product – a key differentiator.
  • Take time – you’ve got to plan and strategize. Things don’t always go how you want. Kiwis are fast and agile, and international buyers don’t always work at that speed!
Glenn Baker

Glenn is a professional writer/editor with 50-plus years’ experience across radio, television and magazine publishing.


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