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Smart Thinker: The couple bringing dairy-free into the mainstream and fairness into the workplace

Smart Thinker: The couple bringing dairy-free into the mainstream and fairness into the workplace

Rewarding loyalty and fostering fairness among staff are all part of the vibe at the rapidly expanding Raglan dairy-free food company.

Smart Thinker: The couple bringing dairy-free into the mainstream and fairness into the workplace

In 2014, Tesh Randall began experimenting with making coconut yoghurt in her kitchen. “My partner, Seb, is dairy intolerant,” she says. “At the time, there was nothing really for alternative yoghurt around so I thought I would make it at home.”

After making a big batch one week, she decided to put up some extra jars on the local community noticeboard. She got a huge response from locals, with more than 60 people asking for a jar.

“Everyone loved it so much, they wanted more the next week,” she says. “It took on a life of its own and before you know it, we’re building a factory and hiring people and now it’s our life.”

Six years on, and her little coconut yoghurt operation has turned into a booming business, producing more than 68,000 jars a month, employing 30 staff and supplying to more than 600 stores throughout New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore and the Pacific Islands.

With a growing product range of classic and gourmet coconut yoghurts, Randall and her partner, Seb Walter, are gearing up to move into a new 850m² factory and have recently rebranded the company to the Raglan Food Co.

“It means we can do other things that aren’t yoghurt,” says Randall. Dips, sauces, ice cream, drinks, desserts … Randall has no shortage of ideas.

The couple are both hands-on when it comes to experimenting with new products. “It has to meet a lot of criteria,” she explains. “We want to use local food as much as possible; it needs to be organic wherever possible and it has to be delicious.”

She admits that scaling up wasn’t easy and they had a lot of hurdles to jump. “It was all completely new; there was heaps to learn. We didn’t have any backing behind us and no money saved. We really figured things out with each little step along the way.”

When it comes to sustainability the company has some ambitious ideas. Last year, it became New Zealand’s first carbon-zero-certified yoghurt company and is working towards its B Corp certification for transparency and accountability.

Each year, the company picks a new project to help better the planet and people. Past projects include sponsoring beehives, planting trees and the ‘1 Million Pieces Project’, in which people are encouraged to pick up plastic from the beach in exchange for free yoghurt.

The ambition doesn’t stop there. Randall has implemented some impressive initiatives with her staff. Every team member starts off on the Living Wage, currently at $22.10 per hour.

The company also has a policy that no one can be paid more than three times the lowest wage and it has recently introduced a profit-sharing scheme that’s distributed according to the “loyalty years” of staff, rather than their position.

Although this kind of business model may seem radical to some, for Randall, it makes perfect sense. “Fairness has always been important to me; it’s how I was raised,” she says.

“There’s this perception of a ladder, [where people think] ‘I need to get to this point and if I’m up there then those people should get less than me because I’m more important than them’. For us, it’s more about the benefit of everyone than the benefit of individual people.”

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