Rooty Moot’s journey from Nelson to China
There is a new kid on the block called Rooty Moot – a playful pink ginger soda. FMCG Business sat down for a Q&A session with Aaron Marsich, CEO and Founder, to discover more about their product development and export journey to date.
Please tell us a little about the origins of Rooty Moot?
Growing up in rural New Zealand in the 1980s commercial soft drinks were the enemy that our Mums kept out of reach. My Mum professed “full of chemicals and too much sugar”, so we started making our own sodas at home. Ginger soda was the go-to recipe we were taught from a young age. Our Mums baked, so in the house we always had fresh ginger, squeezed lemon, baker’s yeast, and cane sugar. Taking a used plastic bottle as the vessel, we would mix these simple household ingredients and brew them in the hot water cupboard. A couple of days in the thirty-degree cupboard and the yeast had done its job, converting some of the sugar into C02, and you had a fresh, clean, natural, and very bubbly soda!
Fast-forward 20 years and we were still in a world of commercial soft drinks full of cheap processed sugars, lab-developed flavours, and not much else. We thought we could do better, so we did! Back to our roots with Rooty Moot, a playful pink ginger soda, just like mum said! Born in sunny Nelson, bottled in Tauranga, and currently making moves in Asia, Rooty Moot is a millennial soda from humble beginnings.
And the progress so far, how has it played out?
Product development started back in 2012 with recipes, mixes, trial batches, bottle design, label design, mock-ups and the like. The proposition was always around the millennial generation who are looking for all the theatre, romance, and sophistication of a cocktail experience but without the high levels of alcohol, sugars, and static flavors of the incumbents. By 2014 we were working on intellectual property registration in selected markets, including the English and Chinese trademark / trade name registrations in Mainland China under the first-to-file system. Small-scale commercial bottling commenced in 2015 and that has been expanding ever since as we ramp-up production runs.
You are full-time Shanghai-based, how does that impact the Rooty Moot journey?
There is no denying that at times it can feel like a double-edged sword. Unlike conventional exporters we are not New Zealand-based and therefore not as close to production. Additional reliance and trust is placed on our third-party bottler in Tauranga as well as other ingredient and packaging suppliers. Have there been anxious moments around quality control and production? For sure! Frequent use of Skype and the occasional trip home to manage relationships and production are definitely part of the repertoire.
The flipside of being Asia-based comes in brand building and driving sales growth. We can be across market trends, better support distributors, on-premise activations and the like. Travel across Mainland China, Hong Kong and the Philippines to support our partners are real-time and more affordable. The planning and execution of offline brand building events is somewhat easier, as is collaborating with other New Zealand companies and joining the activities initiated by the team at New Zealand Trade & Enterprise.
Connecting with Chinese consumers is always a challenge, what is your approach?
Rooty Mooty is a playful and lifestyle value-proposition. The Rooty Moot China brand story is being constantly refined based on a test-and-learn approach and obtaining as much feedback from the market as possible. Increasingly we are pitching to a post-95s generation. They are digital natives, confident, educated, travelled, and open to new experiences. Rooty Moot has been activiated on WeChat, but it will take time to build our community.
Is New Zealand provenance part of the story?
Absolutely. We wish to share a story around the trusted pure ingredients and controlled bottling processes of New Zealand. We also wish to share what we have created with people who aspire towards a balanced life with a healthier choices. We wish to create a joyful, new, authentic, and sensorial experience by binging to life in a modern way the time-honoured ingredients of ginger, galangal, lemon and blackcurrant. We encourage Chinese consumers to experiment and express themselves with a self-made cocktail or mock-tail recipe creation. Rooty Moot is for urban, cosmopolitan, professional, and socially active people. If Rooty Moot can be part of a healthier and more playful life, an antidote to the work stress and congestion of modern city living, then we will be thrilled.
Distribution approaches also challenge Kiwi exporters, what has been your strategy?
The nature of the industry and our resources has dictated the distribution model selected. For Hong Kong and the Philippines we lean towards a master distributor approach with key performance indicators agreed upon. That does not mean an abdication of our responsibilities. We are in-market to support these distributors and look for as much transparency as possible. Mainland China is a multi-distributor approach with around six to eight third-party distributors currently in play. Each distributor has their strengths and weaknesses in terms of regions, channels, access to key accounts, and incentivisation. Through a multi-dististributor approach we aim to secure new venue listings at a faster rate, build the Rooty Moot brand, and deplete inventory more quickly.
What is your focus for the rest of 2018 and beyond?
Much like any other New Zealand exporter aiming to scale up we periodically reach out for new capital. Smart capital is part of the equation where we bring people into the Rooty Moot journey that have equity and can also support in public relations, market access, channel development etc. Batch production in Tauranga continues to ramp-up, particuarly for the Asian summer, where we see increased seasonal sales taking place.
Support for existing Distributors and securing new on-trade key account activation is positioned front-and-centre in our plans as is opening up selected social commerce platforms for direct to consumer sales. Staying focused on only three to four international markets is paramount so that we do not stretch ourselves too thin. Advancing diversity in the Rooty Moot leadership team is also part of the equation. We will continue to collaborate with, and leverage the resources of, the team at New Zealand Trade & Enterprise.