This week we sat down with Oob co-founder Shannon Auton to learn more about the Oob orchard, their values, ethos and the highlights and challenges of building a thriving organics business in New Zealand.
How and where did Oob begin?
We started Oob 11 years ago, and at the time I was working as an HR consultant. The dream was to do something that we felt had meaning, and we dreamed of one day achieving more of a work-life balance. After researching possible ventures, we landed on organic blueberries, and these quickly became the basis of our organic business.
What was your motivation for starting a business centered around Organics?
Initially it was because it gave us a point of difference in the market, our research into blueberries pointed to a growth in organics internationally, so it was a commercial decision. Our orchard is quite small so the organic point of difference gave us leverage to create our own space in New Zealand.
What does Organic mean to you?
In its most basic form it means working with nature and keeping it simple. Growing fruit, the way my Poppa did. He had a huge vegetable garden, he made his own compost, back in the day when your milk groceries were delivered to the house.
It’s not just about being chemical free, its about developing a growing regime based on what the plants and soil need, so no spraying by the calendar – if the plants need nutrition, we feed them, if they don’t then we leave them alone.
What were your first products?
Fresh and frozen blueberries
Had you ever grown fruit before?
No, but we decided that we wanted to get out of the city and make or grow something tangible. We had m experience in business and people management and worked hard to transition an old conventional orchard into a commercially viable organic orchard. It’s been an adventure!
What have been some of the main challenges to running a rapidly growing organic business?
Finding good staff year-round in what is predominantly a holiday destination. Competing with large conventional growers who are totally price driven, and sourcing recyclable and sustainable packaging that is cost effective.
And what have been the highlights?
Developing long term relationships with customers, watching the orchard and business grow and continuing to learn about business and growing organically.
What are the core values that guide what you do?
Our staff created oob’s core values and our internal bi-line – our values are oriented around – Integrity, Diversity, Passion, Commitment and Honesty. The team bi-line is “Real organic food made by the oob crew”
Tell us about your team – what makes the Oob crew special?
Our team are predominately local and have chosen to work here because they like what we do and a proud to be part of a company that makes a fantastic product. They love that we employ a hugely diverse group of people who really care and go the extra mile. Our rural setting and absolute commitment to manufacturing organic fruit and ice cream makes the team feel like they are part of something special.
How do you come up with new products? What sort of process is involved?
We come up with new products based on market research and feedback we get from our customers.
Tell us about your punnet and tray recycling initiative at Huckleberry
This is a new initiative for Oob as we look to reduce waste throughout the business. We understand that we can’t make mammoth changes overnight and want to be completely transparent about making honest and actual small steps. We are trialing the recycling project in initially two Huckleberry Stores and our orchard shop. Our aim is to bring the trays back to the orchard and re-use them, the punnets we will collect and deliver back to the manufacturer who is able to recycle the plastic.
Tell us about your Orchard Shop – how is it different from what one might find at another Oob stockist?
The orchard shop is pretty basic and operates alongside our manufacturing plant and orchard. We don’t advertise we just put a sign out at the end of the road and the locals know that they can come and get fresh fruit directly from us. It’s different because our customers get to buy directly from the source, they can sit outside eating ice cream while watching us pick fruit and make ice cream.
What’s the one Oob product you can’t live without?
There are two things I can’t live without - fresh blueberries and frozen blueberries – I eat them every day. In the summer every morning I have a punnet of blueberries, little bird cereal, and a probiotic yoghurt. My absolute favourite smoothie is my go-to at lunch or for dessert and is a combination of - frozen blueberries, almond milk, ice, macha powder, a squirt of honey and a scoop of LSA.