The dietary supplements and nutrition industry has exploded in the last decade. By some estimates, the market was valued at US$167.8 billion in 2019 and is expected to reach US$306.8 billion by 2026.
And one Kiwi company is well positioned to make the most of this growing market.
Two Islands is a premium New Zealand health and wellness brand, producing truly bioeffective nutrition products in the form of marine collagen, plant protein and dietary powders dietary supplements.
Says founder and CEO Julia Matthews, “We’re committed to optimise health and beauty, we’re committed to giving people the confidence of truly effective nutrition products and are fully transparent about our ingredients.”
I asked Julia how Two Islands got started.
“I was living in Sydney and studying nutrition. I have such a passion for educating people about wellbeing from a holistic perspective. Throughout that study, I came to realise that many people don’t understand basic nutrition. Just because something has a health tick on it, doesn’t mean it’s actually healthy — and I wanted to help educate people who weren’t well-informed.
“I also knew I wanted to work for myself — I started focusing on plant-based supplements because I was using a number of supplements myself, but I couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for — a product that optimised taste and nutrition as well as having clean ingredients
“I decided I wanted to make my own products, and be transparent about what is in the formulation and the process that goes into making the products. A lot of the existing formulations at the time were pretty opaque. I mean, even if you consider baby food pouches, if it can sit on the shelf for 24 months — longer than your baby has been alive — then what process did it have to go through, and why would we feed that to our babies?
“I knew what sort of products I wanted, I found a manufacturer, and worked with a food technician to balance flavour and nutrition and cost. Two Islands launched in December 2018, and started selling online direct-to-consumer so I was able to get some cash into the business early on.
“At the time of launch, we were one of only a handful of plant-based powders, and 6 months later we launched a marine collagen powder. It was an innovative point of difference at the time, but now we’re not putting as much focus on collagen now because of how cluttered that category is here.
“I ran the company for a year and half by myself, only bringing staff on part way through 2020.
“Cashflow has never been an issue so any investment has always been about bringing resources to the table that we can learn from and use to scale the business.
“In September 2020 Sanford purchased 50% of the business. I’ve had a few comments that it’s an odd pairing, however they developed NZ’s first soluble marine collagen and it’s helped us secure some of our supply chain in New Zealand. This helps us ensure supply and keep growing without being so reliant on international suppliers.”
I asked Julia what were three key things to her success with Two Islands to date.
“First has been being passionate about the product and sticking to our values. I know why I started the company and stay true to that. We could’ve headed straight into grocery — it looked really good on paper and would’ve been great for revenue — but that’s not who we are as a brand so we’ve opted for other channels to market.
“Second is building trust with customers. It’s linked to the first point, because customers want to know that we’re authentic and true to who we say we are. And because we’re 90% direct-to-consumer, it gives us an invaluable link with our consumer and what they want. That’s been crucial to our growth, and helping to create more value for our customers.
“And third has been staying innovative and keeping things fresh through new product development, finding new segments to push into and keep people interested in what we’re doing.”
I asked Julia what challenges she’s faced along the way.
Says Julia, “In the early days, I partnered with an investor and it turned out to be a disruptive partnership for the business. I was still pretty new to the founder life, it was just me running the business and it didn’t work out but I learnt so much from that experience.
“Covid has been good and bad for Two Islands. Sales have been positive but sourcing ingredients that aren’t of New Zealand origin has been difficult.
“For instance we source our collagen from Europe, and it’s been hard with shipping times, etcetera, to get product here. That’s part of why the Sanford deal made sense for Two Islands. It helps us secure supply in New Zealand and not be so reliant on European supply.”
I asked Julia how their export journey has been thus far.
“That’s been quite an interesting journey,” laughs Julia.
“We were all good to go for distribution in Australia and just as we were about to push go, we realised that two of our dietary products contain ingredients that would have meant we had to reformulate due to their regulations. It all became too much of a roadblock for us to keep pursuing, so we sell direct to consumers in Australia but we don’t have a retail presence.
“It did get us thinking about export though so we have a distributor in South Korea, we’re moving into Hong Kong and looking to explore the Middle East too.
“We’re developing a new marine collagen product where our collagen will be fully sustainable and traceable. Sanford holds a third of the New Zealand hoki quota and will turn the skins into collagen, but the marine collagen is more expensive as the volume is so small. The process and volumes mean the price point might be too high for the domestic market so we’ll be looking to take that product into other markets, which is really exciting.”
I asked Julia what advice she’d give to someone looking to kick off a new venture.
“Just do it — ask people you know, put your hand up for help, google, find free advice. You can spend forever on research and looking at everything that could go wrong, but you learn much more if you just go and do it. Find a strong purpose to align to, and believe in your product.
“And find people ahead of you that you can tap on the shoulder for advice — most people I’ve asked are more than willing to help with any questions and share their knowledge. I’m part of a great network called Company of Women, and have some excellent advisors that can help me on the numbers and strategic thinking going forward.”
I asked Julia what’s next for Two Islands.
“We’re looking to grow the team, so we can scale. We’ve launched into a big retailer and need to keep supporting our growth,” says Julia.
“We’ve also got some new product development to do, fleshing out our dietary supplement range and bringing those to market.
“And we’ll definitely have a strong focus on sustainability. I’m not interested in greenwashing — consumers see though that lack of authenticity so quickly. So we’re asking ourselves the big questions around how we can make sure our products don’t generate more waste than necessary, and our packaging is sustainable and doesn’t end up in landfill.
“There’s always opportunities to get better and keep innovating so we’re excited for what the next few years will bring.”