Morgan Maw of Bonnie Goods has gone with the grain to build a nutritious snack empire around the humble oat.
Scotland, where temperatures are low and mountain ranges high, is the rugged home to such legendary figures as Rob Roy and the Loch Ness monster. Naturally, its bold cuisine is made both to lift the spirits and warm the heart. There’s rumbledethumps, a stodgy and savoury potato dish, Cullen skink, a soup of smoked haddock, and, most infamously, haggis, the contents of which are best not described here.
New Zealander Morgan Maw (29) set off for an OE in Edinburgh with her now husband, Nic, in 2010. While there, they made sure to savour the local fare, especially the single malt whisky. But the speciality that most captured their imagination was the national oatcake cracker.
A keen baker from a young age, Morgan began making these crackers in her cosy Leith flat. When it was time to come back to Auckland three years later, she saw a gap in the market for such a satisfying snack and set up her wholefoods bakery, Bonnie Goods.
How Morgan launched Bonnie Goods:
Harvesting the power of oats, her little wonders are a significant source of vitamin B1, manganese, magnesium and zinc, as well as both soluble and insoluble fibre. Put simply, just one cracker helps you feel fuller for longer. They also look beautiful on a cheese board.
A smart decision to sell her wares at La Cigale market in Parnell helped her gain invaluable insights, meeting her customers in person every weekend. The most important passerby, however, was one of the head buyers for Foodstuffs, who approached Morgan to sell her oatcake crackers in a few of New World’s flagship supermarkets in Auckland. From small beginnings, the oatcakes, now available in five flavours, are stocked in more than 350 stores around the country, and Morgan has recently begun exporting to some of the best delis and cheese shops in Australia’s foodie heaven, Melbourne.
Morgan on being a boss and managing a business:
As founder and managing director of Bonnie Goods, Morgan wears many hats, but her main roles are business strategy, managing relationships, new product development (“the fun stuff”), and leading her team of bakers.
Morgan says the idea of being her own boss originally appealed to her because it meant she wouldn’t have to be answerable to anyone. But the flipside of this is that she’s responsible not only for herself but for everyone else involved in her business, including employees, suppliers and clients. “I think that being your own boss is the perfect antidote to naivety,” says Morgan. “It forces you to grow up pretty fast.”
While studying for a Bachelor of Commerce degree at Victoria University in Wellington, Morgan was fortunate to work at Coffee Supreme’s roastery in Mt Cook, where she saw how important the people you work with are to creating a great brand and positive work culture. From the outset, she was aware of the importance of hiring carefully and choosing who Bonnie Goods did business with.
“I really do believe in that Jim Rohn quote, ‘You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with,’” says Morgan. “With Bonnie, I’ve found myself surrounded by people who have a tonne more experience than me and I’m forever learning from them.”
How Morgan overcame her challenges and setbacks:
As with all start-ups, her success has not been without setbacks. The challenges Morgan has faced are “the usual” — capital and cashflow, as well as fighting for shelf space in the fast-moving, fiercely competitive consumer goods industry. “There’s a reason why the majority of brands in supermarkets are big, bad corporates — it’s a tough market, with very low margins.”
But help and advice have always been just a question away. “There are nearly 500,000 SMEs in New Zealand — businesses with less than 20 people — so there are plenty of people out there who can offer you good advice,” she says. Cultivating a micro-community of like-minded food and beverage entrepreneurs at a similar stage in growing their businesses has become one of the most enjoyable parts of the gig for Morgan.
Many of these people she speaks to weekly, if not daily, and it’s this generosity of knowledge and support that has helped her through the roller coaster that is small business life. “Having a business can be lonely and isolating at times and having people to share war stories with is what has made me so resilient in business today,” she says. “Remember, a smart woman learns from her own mistakes, but a wise woman learns from others’.”
Want to start your own business? Here’s Morgan’s advice:
Morgan’s advice to budding entrepreneurs is to recognise your true strengths and find help to fill the gaps. This doesn’t give you a free pass on some aspects of your business, however. Even if you don’t know how to do a cashflow forecast, you need to be sure you understand your working capital and, most importantly, when you’ll run out of money. “Ignorance is not bliss in business.”
Complacency should also be avoided. Morgan says continuing to find new ways to create and improve your offering is essential. As a wholefoods brand, Bonnie Goods’ future will be filled with innovative products free from refined sugars, dairy, preservatives and nasty additives, and with locally sourced ingredients wherever possible — not just because of food mileage concerns but because New Zealand grows some of the best produce in the world.
What’s next for Bonnie Goods?
Morgan is getting set to launch Bonnie Oat Biscuits. Using the brand’s favourite ingredients and offering lower sugar — in fact, 50% less — than your average sweet biscuit, it’s a healthier snacking option for those wanting to veer away from goodies with hidden sugar. “We’ve come up with three delicious, full-flavoured biscuits — Dutch spiced, dark chocolate and hazelnut, and peanut brownie (featuring peanut butter from our pals at Fix & Fogg). I’m really proud of them and hope people will love them too.”
When launching a new product, or business for that matter, Morgan says doing your homework properly is imperative to finding out if there is any real demand for what you’re putting on the table:
“Your mum or best mate are not true market validations.” Asking lots of questions and being critical with what you hear will take you a long way, she says. Perhaps an inspirational trip to Bonnie Scotland wouldn’t go amiss either.