Leaders Forum: Haydn Gearon, National Sales Manager – ANZ, Rich Products

As part of the 2023 C&I Industry Leaders Forum, Haydn Gearon, National Sales Manager – ANZ, Rich Products, talks about the company’s heritage in non-dairy toppings and icings; and its evolution into foodservice, retail, in-store bakery and of course the convenience channel, including the launch of f’real, which has been making waves recently.

C&I: What have been the highlights for Rich Products Australia over the past six to 12 months?

Gearon: Seeing the growth of f’real throughout the ANZ marketplace has been a real highlight for us at Rich Products. Volumes are growing substantially, and we expect that growth to continue for some time.

F’real is a unique offer, which ticks all the boxes. It is convenient – the product is all in the cup, the customer chooses their flavour (and thickness), inserts it into the f’real blender and in a minute, they have a fully formed thick shake or smoothie. Stores love it because the self-serve blender is also self-cleaning, with no parts to strip down. So, other than basic housekeeping there is very little staff interaction required. It is also a genuine impulse purchase in that consumers see the machine with its digital graphics and have that, ‘hey, this looks cool, let’s try it’ moment.

The f’real offer is a genuine experience for the consumer, and more and more the shopper is looking for something unique to experience in-store.

The product itself also has that wow factor. It’s made from real milk and ice-cream and when people first try it, the response so often is, ‘Wow, this tastes great’. Despite being in the relatively early stages of our growth in ANZ, f’real trends quite regularly on TikTok – the brand and the offer just seems to resonate with the core customer. We had a recent installation that went viral due to a TikTok video, the site sold more than 1,000 units in three days. It was extraordinary, people were lining up outside the door.

C&I: What will be the focus for Rich Products Australia for the remainder of 2023?

Gearon: On the f’real side of our business, our focus will be on the development of new products. Our current range sits at six SKUs (by comparison, in the US, where f’real has been a market leader for more than 20 years, we have twice that amount). We’ll have a couple of new f’real shakes for next summer. Constant innovation and ‘new news’ are critical for the continued growth of the brand. So watch this space!

For the other parts of the Rich Products business, we continue to pursue growth in our toppings and icings product ranges, to the bakery, dessert and beverage segments, as we develop our omnichannel approach.

C&I: What do you enjoy most about the convenience channel?

Gearon: I have found it to be an interesting area of focus, one that is relatively new for me personally and Rich Products Australia. It’s quite enjoyable seeing f’real work for our customers – it’s an offer that is almost perfect for convenience. There are a lot of interesting characters in this channel, I enjoy the different viewpoints and the interactions.

It’s also enjoyable when we install f’real in a location and it works for the owners so then we roll out to their other locations. We’re growing with our customers, which is quite satisfying.

It’s also interesting watching the evolution of the convenience channel. The format is evolving quite quickly as we know, and I’m enjoying seeing where it is going. In a crowded marketplace, the challenge is to provide a compelling offer to the shopper, one that gives the shopper a reason to visit (and revisit). Add in the transition to EVs and it will evolve from a petrol and convenience offer to something more like a recharge and go offer.

C&I: What is one challenge you’d like to see addressed in the industry?

Gearon: It will be interesting to see how the industry balances the challenge of being more customer centric in a time of labour shortages. How do you optimise your offer when you don’t have the staff to execute as perhaps you once did? In this channel there is always a competitor or two literally just around the corner, so how do you become the destination of choice, rather than just because you’re the most convenient? Attracting the shopper that wants an experience, something a little different, more than just a transaction, will be an interesting challenge for retailers.

C&I: What do you enjoy most about what you do?

Gearon: When it comes to f’real, I enjoy seeing the growth we are achieving with the brand and the results our customers are getting out of it. We find that with f’real, our customers are getting new users into their sites, that’s incremental business (and good for their business) so it’s a win/win for everyone.

My role at Rich’s is quite varied, so no two days are really the same. From presenting to senior management to going through the basics of f’real blender maintenance at a remote site in Australia or New Zealand, there is never a dull moment! For background, Rich Products’ heritage has been in non-dairy toppings and icings; as the company has evolved and grown over the years, we have expanded into foodservice, retail, in-store bakery and of course the convenience channel with beverages, baked goods, pizzas, cookies, doughnuts, even BBQ. We are the largest family-owned food company in the world, owned by the Rich family.

C&I: Is there anything else happening at Rich Products Australia that you’d like to highlight?

Gearon: Watch out for us at the C&I Expo of course, come and try a shake and enjoy the f’real experience first hand. As I mentioned, we will have new lines coming through for summer so watch out for that as well.

This article originally appeared in the June/July issue of Convenience & Impulse Retailing magazine, which is available online here.

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