Handmade Tales: In the latest in our artisan series, Doris Neubauer reports on the Australian plans for Rotorua’s VV Mylk
It’s quiet around the little coffee caravan in front of a warehouse in Rotorua’s White Street. Hayden Booker puts a tablespoon of pinenut mylk concentrate into a jug of water and starts foaming the milk-alternative for coffee. It’s a simple routine but his mind is on other matters. “I am trying to raise half-a-million dollars by the end of January,” says the founder of the alternative milk company Vigor & Vitality or VV Mylk. With the money, Booker aims to acquire the Australian company Ulu Hye whose nut mylk bases are sold in Aussie Woolworths.
The purchase is a strategic decision and a big step for VV Mylk, which was established in 2014. “I was the first to market the mylk concentrate concept, but we are a small company in a small country. New Zealand is a good testing ground for a small company, but it is really hard to push the concept in a country that is so dairy driven.”
The savings are more than just in health and animal ethics. In 2021, VV Mylk estimates it saved 40,000 milk Tetra Paks going into landfill with its zero-waste mylk bases in glass jars and buckets.
Despite being happy with the growing awareness for plant-based alternatives, the entrepreneur with a bachelor’s in Human Nutrition and Sports Science from Massey University, knows what he has to do next. “I need to go to Australia before someone beats me to it, and the only one that can beat me to it is this company we are buying, so I am buying my competitor in Australia to own the market.”
“We may use the money to expand over there anyway. It is exciting times to be in business.” Hayden Booker
The plan has been a year in the making. In February 2022, Hayden reached out to Ulu Hye co-owners Heidi Peuten and Chris Kitto. “Negotiations started not too long afterwards. It was a no-brainer for them. They needed someone to improve their business.”
Heidi and Chris will still continue to be involved with Ulu Hye and will also take care of VV Mylks range in Australia.
Instead of outsourcing manufacturing, production, storage and distribution, which is Ulu Hye’s current practice, the New Zealander wants to make the business more viable by bringing as much as possible in-house.
After the acquisition, the first step will be to expand the manufacturing facility and produce both VV Mylk as well as Ulu Hye Mylk concentrates in the 120m2 warehouse in Rotorua. He’ll also set up a warehouse in Queensland where stock will be stored and distributed.
“I like the idea of focus. The overheads are low, so there is a lot of potential here to grow a business.”
Ancient method of stone-grinding
VV currently offers 20 flavours of nut and seeds mylks using a stoneground method that creates a concentrate. This base is then mixed up with water to make instant plant-based milk such as hazelnut, macadamia, walnut, hemps, pumpkin seed and pine nut,
The ancient method ensures that both flavour and nutrients possessed by the nuts and seeds are of the highest quality and provide maximum health benefits. “Every nut and seed is packed with all these different minerals like copper, zinc and magnesium.”
One-third of the used nuts and seeds in VW Mylk concentrates are grown in either New Zealand or Australia – owning a farm for his Mylk products after the merge of the two companies is on the bucket list.
More nuts and seeds will be needed for filling not only Woolworths shelves in Australia, but also to bring both VV Mylk and Ulu Hye in New Zealand’s supermarket franchises as well.
Since COVID-19, Hayden and his team of seven have focused on selling direct via their online shop and on building connections with food manufacturers. “We can provide our concentrates in bulk to other plant-based milk companies.”
The entrepreneur sees this as the main growth areas for the next two years, hoping to replace milk with the alternative products.
Potential for the world’s biggest stone-grinding facility
The capacity to stone grind larger amounts of nuts and seed is there. “With our machines, the concept and the product range, we have the potential to become the biggest stone grinding facility in the world within five years.”
Firstly though, Booker needs to get half a million dollars to purchase Ulu Hye.
In addition to talking to investors and selling shares, he plans to put a crowdfunding campaign on PledgeMe to raise more funds for his big ideas. If the acquisition of the Australian competitor does not work out he’ll box on. “We may use the money to expand over there anyway. It is exciting times to be in business.”
Words and pictures by Doris Neubauer