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5 minutes with Little Island’s James Crow

Offering a range of vegan food and beverage options, Little Island is a pioneer of Aotearoa’s plant-based movement.

We spoke with co-founder James Crow about the company’s journey and the impact these unpredictable times are having on ethical consumer decisions.

What inspired you to start an entirely plant-based company back in 2010, before it became the trend it is today?

Like many good ideas, our initial products were born out of necessity. We wanted to produce foods that anyone could eat, and knowing dairy was an issue for many, we looked to coconut as a really sustainable replacement.

What began as a want by consumers to remove dairy from their foods for allergen or lifestyle reasons, has grown into an acknowledgement that the innovation of plants and plant proteins will be a major factor in feeding the world’s population and reducing carbon emissions in the future.

What learnings have you gained along the way?

People really support a brand they believe in and it means we are always aware of what the market wants. They gave us a huge boost in the early days and certainly keep us honest – when a flavour’s not quite right or a store doesn’t have their favourite flavour, for example. It’s like having thousands of team mates out there keeping an eye on the brand. Also, having a solid leadership and shareholder group who all believe in the same purpose has been hugely beneficial to a start-up like ours.

How do you ensure your products are sustainably and ethically made?

From the very start, we’ve made sure we either manufacture ourselves or fully understand the production of our NZ-based partners and the sourcing of our ingredients. With the range being organic and Living Wage certified, we could just rely on that, but we prefer to have the extra depth of knowledge that helps us keep an eye on the whole system and be better informed for the future.  We have a mindset where we are constantly reviewing and striving for even more sustainable solutions.

What are Little Island’s plans for the next 12 months? What about the next five years?

Like many innovative businesses our size, scaling up to a defendable position requires support. We have very good business fundamentals that now require further capital to accelerate growth.

Through our current capital raise with Snowball Effect (which is open to anyone, at a $5,000 minimum investment) we plan to develop the Little Island brand into a more diverse dairy alternative business, with a move into yoghurt!

We have a solid strategy to develop our people and products to become that dominant plant based business both in New Zealand and in our chosen export markets, when the time is right.

In what way has COVID-19 impacted the company?

COVID-19 must have affected every business in some way. For us, it was a surge in supermarket demand pre-Level 4, coupled with an immediate halt to all hospitality trade. Revenues during lockdown decreased, as expected, but our team was well supported and continued to manufacture and we traded throughout. We finished our financial year at March 31 and still met our targeted revenue and growth thanks to the growing demand for our milks and ice cream in supermarkets, and great summer trading. We’re very thankful.

Why should Kiwis choose sustainable and locally-produced products?

We should always be working to purchase more locally, but also manufacturers like Little Island have a responsibility to meet the public’s demands for quality and ethics, and continue to innovate to earn that support.

You can find out more about Little Island’s plans and their crowdfunding campaign on the Snowball Effect website.

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