Very Able Bagels

Catherine Beard

ABE’S Bagel Bakery GM Wade Gillooly says international success is all about going deep into markets, rather than simply exporting to them.

“I don’t like using the word ‘export’ – it implies you’re just putting a product in a container and forgetting about it,” says Wade. “Whereas what we’re trying to do – and what I think most NZ exporters are aiming for – is to have a deep, in-market presence, to understand our customer a lot better and to control our sales better.”

This is part of the strategy Wade employs as GM of ABE’S Bagel Bakery – the company he joined after previously working at Heinz in NZ, then running Pitango in Australia.

Originally he was invited to join ABE’S advisory board to help with a strategy for growth, then he got asked to execute the plan!

Now leading the bagel category in NZ, and aiming to lead in Australia too, ABE’S has grown mainly through supermarket chains.

“It’s about controlling and managing the supply chain, as well as getting the product onto shelf in the right location, at the right time. Then supporting products in market, with a really strong promotion programme and marketing support package.  It’s about the locus of control – integrating and growing into other markets,” says Wade.

“We helped set up a bagel café called Smoking Gun in Sydney last year, backing two young Kiwi guys. We’re now making an authentic Montreal-style bagel in downtown Sydney, and showcasing them to Australians along with all the topping experiences you can have with them. The long-term goal is for people to understand the bagel occasion – to enjoy them with coffee, enjoy them with friends and family – then when they’re shopping in the supermarket they can buy the ABE’S bagel and have that café experience at home.

“This all helps us get deeper into the market and have a deeper understanding of our customers in the long-term – we’re recruiting new bagel consumers! That’s the purpose of the Smoking Gun bagel café. It’s about promoting bagels as a food and lifestyle choice.”

Wade says this is one of the differences between simply exporting vs having an in-market presence. Also, Australia is a quick commute, so he sees it as an extension of their NZ market, and good for initial growth.

Our plan is to have the best bagel products in Australasia, and to grow the category in both NZ and Australia. Partnering with topping partner brands such as Philadelphia cream cheese, Nutella and Vegemite is helping to raise awareness.

Wade says one of the keys to their success is to purely focus on bagels. It’s all about a passion and single-minded focus on making the best bagel and best bagel crisps.

Tips and learnings:

  • Before developing overseas markets, you need a strong home market. Focus on building strong brand equity through having a highly differentiated product offering. Don’t be a “me too” product. This is especially important when competing against supermarket own brand products.
  • Have fun! As a brand, we’re keen to have fun and vibrancy in our culture. For example, our marketing team – who are crucial to what we do – are called “The Colouring-In Department” and the sales guys are known as “Sales Ninjas”.
  • Make sure your people fit your culture, and delegate so people can get on and do their jobs. A flat hierarchy and flexibility means we can make decisions quickly. I love the fact we’re all passionate about getting things done.
  • Have a strong strategic three-year plan that everyone is on board with. We’re always talking about where we are relative to the plan – and that gives us focus for growth and seizing opportunities.

Catherine Beard

24 Jan, 2018

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