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Lewis Road Creamery: An unfiltered voice

In the spring of 2014, a craze overtook New Zealand. Stockpiles were formed, queues grew and the buzz on social media was deafening, all because of one single product – Lewis Road Creamery’s chocolate milk, made with Whittaker’s finest. It became, if you’ll excuse the pun, the cream of the crop in every supermarket across the country.

To quote founder Peter Cullinane, ‘it's just such a Kiwi story.’ Back then, Lewis Road Creamery was known for its butter and run by a handful of people. Now, five years down the line, the company still has a small team but its range has expanded beyond the dairy aisle and now includes organic and Jersey milk, ice cream, liqueurs, sour cream and even bread.

Yet throughout all that time, the Lewis Road Creamery brand has stayed consistent, created and nurtured by founder Peter Cullinane, who wielded his extensive advertising experience from running Saatchi & Saatchi in New Zealand. Bite-Size News spoke to Cullinane about his brainchild and its modern approach to a very traditional industry.

Lewis Road arrived as something of a spark of inspiration, when Cullinane, a self-confessed butter fanatic, picked up a pack of Lurpak butter in his local supermarket. According to Cullinane, ‘I asked myself what a Kiwi was doing reaching for Danish butter in a country that should be famous for his dairy.’ He decided to roll up his sleeves and see if he could do better by attempting his own batch at home. When that proved promising, he decided to grow the idea into a business.

However, it wasn’t enough to just make the product and put it on sale. The launch took a year, with Cullinane perfecting both the product and the design of the packaging. Aware of how important image is in a digital age, he tried to make the packaging ‘timeless in its look and feel’, a concept reflected in the traditional shape of the milk bottle, launched soon after. Cullinane points out that ‘in the digital age, the link between the brand and the product are inseparable and they’re only as good as the weaker of the two. People’s ability to rate and assess and report on what you create has never been so powerful.’

The business launched with a strong presence on social media, primarily Facebook. Starting with 40 followers consisting of close friends and family, the Facebook page now has over 200,000 fans, and the content ranges from recipes to videos of the farmers who supply the milk. Recognising the farmers is an important part of the brand for Cullinane, saying ’these guys work incredibly hard so it was important to do things with the fruits of their labour that they can be proud of.’

He also emphasises the importance of caring for the customers, saying that ‘people who support us are incredibly important to who we are and what we do, so we try to look after them as best we can.’ A membership programme of Lewis ‘Roadies’ extends that sentiment, building a community who can provide feedback when they need it.

As well as responding to enquiries online, this diligent attention to their customers has even extended to what Cullinane calls the ‘moo phone’ in the office. While it does bring in some dairy ambience through its eponymous ringing sound, it also provides customers with a direct line to the Lewis Road Creamery team.

The Lewis Road team has been outspoken about a variety of issues, from the use of palm kernel expeller in farming to animal welfare and GMO produce.  It can be a risk for a brand to be outspoken on environmental issues – and being perceived as anything less than authentic can make social media a cut-throat environment.

Cullinane is proud of how their views on industry issues have become part of the business, saying:

‘There's nothing that we're not happy to talk about because whatever we're doing, we're doing because it's the right thing for us. Brands don't take positions, people do, and the less we behave like a brand and the more we behave like a small team of people with a very particular view on how their product should perform, the better.’

That’s what it comes down to for Cullinane – the people engaged in Lewis Road Creamery are the brand. As he points out, ‘it's important to me that customers can see that there are real people behind Lewis Road Creamery. That's very much what we focus on.’