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Understanding the target market, being realistic on funding, and constant re-invention are the success factors behind Rutherford and Meyer’s US export journey – along with a clever DIY approach.

Back in 2001, when Jan Meyer and her husband Russell Coventry bought Wellington-based food business Rutherford and Meyer from her mother and business partner, it was a very small cottage industry. Making fruit pastes to complement cheese, it was really only being sold in the gift market category, so Jan asked the question “How can we expand our market?”

“We started looking outside New Zealand. Firstly, to Australia where we dabbled in a similar market, but then realising that the bulk of our sales would have to come through supermarkets,” says Jan (pictured).

After being put in touch with a contact at Australia’s National Foods, who wanted to private label their products, things started to step up a level. “At this point everything was made by hand, we were tiny, but they didn’t know that!” laughs Jan.

“From there we looked around for other export markets and found the USA was a natural fit for us. However, it is a really complicated market and I had to make many many trips over there, talking to people, understanding the market. I was really lucky to find a retailer through NZTE who understood our product and someone who taught me the market quickly.”

Since breaking into the US market in 2003, Jan says Rutherford & Meyer have gone through several business models in that country. “It’s gone from going into partnership with a company and co-branding our product, using a third party warehouse and having an importer on the East Coast, then also the West Coast – and now we’ve gone back to having our own warehouse and our own company in the US. We have two team members – one on each coast – and they deal with retailers, brokers and distributors. Our biggest market is the supermarkets.”

The ‘do it yourself’ approach is a common theme when you look at Rutherford & Meyer’s road to success. As well as having their own company and warehousing in the US, in 2007 they also took over the manufacturing of their products here in New Zealand, buying the plant that had previously been supplying them.

Since then, as volume has grown, they have worked on mechanisation of their systems and innovation.

Positioned at the premium end of the market, their tag line is “elevate your taste” and this extends not only to their product and packaging but also to team members. The range now encompasses fruit pastes and spreads as well as wafers, grain crackers and fruit flavoured honeys. Rutherford & Meyer is the only fruit paste that is rectangular rather than round.

“We asked what the consumer and the retailer wanted,” explains Jan. “No one likes rounds because they are hard to cut; whereas a rectangle is easy to cut and you can use part of a container and what’s left still looks presentable to use another time.”

Additionally, rounds take up more space on the shelf than rectangles.

Today Rutherford & Meyer still focus on the three markets of New Zealand, Australia and the US. “There’s still so much more to explore in the huge market that is the USA,” says Jan.

“We’re doing social media and working with some great distributors and retailers. Doing in-store demonstrations, price promotions and food shows are great for simply getting the product in people’s mouths! If people don’t know about your product, it’s hard for them to know what it tastes like.”

Jan’s top tips:

  • Really understand and know your market. The US works so differently to everywhere else, and a lot of Kiwis don’t appreciate that. When we started there, I’d just pick up the phone and call people. Networking, forming and maintaining really good relationships with people in the US is key.  
  • Don’t go into the market underfunded. It will take you a lot of money to get the market up and running. For example, when we got into Kroger nationally (the largest grocery-store chain in the US), I estimate it cost us $100,000 just to get to the starting blocks.
  • Constantly look at new ways to re-invent yourself. Make sure your team are on board with that. I say to our team, “just because it worked that way last time, doesn’t mean it will next time.”


Article by Catherine Beard, executive director of ExportNZ, which assists exporters throughout New Zealand.

Glenn Baker

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


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