Consumer demand for clean and green products has grown immensely, causing many businesses to develop a sustainability focus in recent years. But there is one company – whose New Zealand HQ is nestled above Te Mata Estate in Havelock North – that have been focusing on it for ninety-nine years.
Weleda is a medicine and cosmetics company with the harmony of nature and humans at its bottom line. They’ve faced major hurdles this year but are taking the lessons on board and are positive about a sustainable, harmonious, future.
“COVID has shown us how adaptable and resilient our team and business is in challenging times. Like many, we are looking to “bounce forward” to a better normal,” says Fred Dryburgh, Weleda New Zealand’s Managing Director.
Amanda Liddle, ExportNZ Hawke’s Bay’s Executive Officer, spoke to Fred about their COVID experience and turning today’s challenges into a better tomorrow.
Who is Weleda and what do you do?
Weleda is the world’s leading manufacturer of certified natural cosmetics and anthroposophic medicines. Founded in 1921 by Dr Rudolf Steiner (Austrian philosopher & natural scientist) and Dr Ita Wegman (Dutch medical doctor), the brand is now sold in over 50 countries across five continents. From our anthroposophic roots, we have developed a unique understanding of people and nature and aim to harness only the power of nature’s wisdom to help people look and feel their best.
Weleda’s worldwide headquarters are in Switzerland, with Weleda NZ based in the beautiful Havelock North, Hawke’s Bay. I am the Managing Director of Weleda New Zealand, where we have been making a wide range of anthroposophic and homoeopathic medicines since 1955. To ensure maximum vitality and potency, we grow our own herbs to the highest biodynamic standards or source the finest ingredients from elsewhere in New Zealand, or from sustainably cultivated, fair trade partnerships worldwide.
What was your biggest business issue during the lockdown period and how did you overcome it?
Our biggest concern was making sure that we kept our staff and customers safe.
Anticipating the unfolding situation and health and safety procedures necessary to mitigate risks put us in a good position when government guidelines changed. A couple of weeks before lockdown we had ensured key staff were set up with secure remote access to our information systems. However, when we became aware of the extent of lockdown requirements, we had to rapidly set up twice the number of staff we had anticipated for working remotely. Fortunately, by this stage our IT support provider (Hawkes Bay Technology) was able to react quickly, so the main disruption was more around people creating an appropriate work-from-home space. We were able to help with this by delivering office chairs, desks, monitors, and other equipment to people’s homes.
Once we received clarification of our essential business status, we were able to quickly implement the guidelines provided by MBIE and keep the business open, servicing all customers’ orders. A lot of our head office staff were able to work from home remotely and because of our GMP-certified (Good Manufacturing Practice) pharmaceutical set up we were already working with strict cleaning protocols, so the adaptation required was minimal. Apart from physical distancing, most of the changes that were required were outside the manufacturing facility, such as adapting hygiene practices in common areas
Given the nature of your products (herbal medicines and skincare), did you see an increase in particular product lines?
As the virus spread throughout the world, we saw an increase in orders for our all of our cough and cold remedies, so much so, that leading up to the lockdown and for a while after we had to limit customers’ orders. As we moved out of Level 4, sales of our hand creams and our iconic Skin Food range also dramatically increased.
That’s not to say that the lockdown did not have a significant impact on our business. The closure of most of our retailers and restrictions in pharmacies have affected our sales and it will be sometime before we return to pre-COVID levels, but opportunities appear all the time and export is a segment where we still see some significant potential.
How did you manage your team, and were there any workplace policies you had in place to help staff through the uncertainty?
As an essential business, we had teams working both on-site and remotely, so we used technology and video a lot more. Managers had regular Zoom meetings with their staff at home and I created a weekly email update to keep all employees informed on how the business was doing through this challenging time.
It was important, in particular for staff based remotely, to get a sense of what was happening in other parts of the business. I also created vlogs so remotely based staff could see what was happening on site. I felt it important for all members of the team to know what the situation was like for the company, what actions we were taking to meet particular challenges, and also be open about what was unknown – which was a lot! During this time, I found the Prime Minister and John Milford of Business Central were both great role models in the value of frequent and clear communication.
Given the nature of our business, we had a real mix of what was an essential service and what was not. Fortunately, through great staff cooperation and flexibility, we were able to find ways to keep all staff actively engaged with the company over the lockdown period. The level of activity did vary depending on the team members’ commitments outside of work, but team members supported each other to allow times to be with family etc. It was fantastic to see how everyone responded and worked together to keep things going and to also give each other support during what was a very unsettling time for many.
I felt that a big part of my role over the lockdown was to encourage and support the team, whilst at the same time acknowledging the uncertainty and giving them space to express any concerns or fears they may have.
What have been the pros and cons of exporting from regional New Zealand, both logistically and from a branding perspective?
New Zealand’s reputation has certainly been enhanced by the way the Government handled the initial part of the COVID-19 response and subsequent lockdown. I believe it reinforces the trust and reliability of New Zealand overall.
Being based in regional New Zealand and having good relationships with our business partners built up over years stood us in good stead. Toll, our logistics provider, provided great assistance during this highly disrupted time and worked closely with us to ensure that despite significant obstacles, we didn’t go out of stock of anything or miss any deliveries. Hats off to New Zealand Couriers too, they kept our urgent essential deliveries going to our customers.
The world is full of uncertainty right now, so on a positive note, what is the best thing to come out of COVID for you and Weleda?
COVID has shown us how adaptable and resilient our team and business is in challenging times. Like many, we are looking to “bounce forward” to a better normal. It has also provided the opportunity for us to appreciate what we do have and to re-assess our work-life balance, which is certainly important to Weleda globally
Next year we will celebrate our 100th anniversary, so we have plenty to look back on and to celebrate, as well as providing a foundation for our plans for the next 100 years.
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