Ben Bostock – Bostocks Chicken – CEO Business Marketing Interview 32

Ben shares his vision for Bostocks Chicken, the secret to the intensity of the Bostock chicken flavour, why French Chalets keep chickens happy and the plans to convert an orchard into a world first chicken farm under apple trees.

Ben also talks about growing awareness of organic free range chicken using social media, in store product placement and word of mouth marketing.

PLUS Ben shares what it’s taking to manage the stellar growth since mid 2014 launch and what’s coming next.

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Ryan: This is the Ryan Marketing Show, and you’re listening to episode 32 of 100. Today, on the show I have Ben Bostock from Bostock’s Organic Chicken in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand. Great to have you on the show Ben.

Ben: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Ryan: Now I’ve got to put a disclaimer out there, I love your chicken. It’s phenomenal in the taste profile, particularly the chicken thighs. Do you think people are buying your product based on the taste profile or do you think it’s more to do with, that it’s organic and some of, more how it’s produced. Or do you think it’s a bit of both?

Ben: Absolutely, I think, we have a lot of chefs that just hands down say that it taste better than other chickens that they’ve bought before, and when I went around I actually went around to France and England to have a look at the organic chickens industry over there and, talking to a nutritionist over there, it came down to the length of time that the chicken lives. So by us lowering the protein in the feet, we can allow the chicken to grow slower to get to the same weight, and from that, that is directly proportional to the intensity of the flavour in the meat. So that’s what we’re doing, basically going back to basics and instead of going for high performance, seeing if we can grow them as fast as we can, slowing that down. It does cost more but it means a more quality product.

Ryan: Right so that pursuit of quality starts with how you feed them in a more natural way I guess.

Ben: In a more natural way, yeah, instead of added synthetic proteins, we use the organic feed which it doesn’t allow this and it means the chickens take a lot longer time to grow as I said.

Ryan: Now they’re out there running around in quite a large area, does that mean that they’re burning off a lot of what they’re eating as well so it takes them naturally longer?

Ben: I think so, I think obviously the more heart beats they do, the more energy they’re using and the longer it’s going to take, and so them running around is going to be a few more heart beats.

Ryan: Now your family doesn’t have a background in the organic chicken side, your father John Bostock started in the organic apples side and squash, follow by onions and kiwifruit, when did you decide that you didn’t want to go down that route and you wanted to go down the organic chicken route?

Ben: The chickens, yeah. So that actually started, I was working in Auckland buying and selling meat out of the processors around New Zealand overseas and I really kind of had this drive to come back down to the Bay and I originally wanted to do either lamb or beef, something like processing lamb or beef and being the producer, but it became pretty evident that to be able to do lamb or beef you have to do a massive scale because there’s niche parts of the animal, lamb or a beef cattle, that you have to have. For example if you wanted to do tenderloins, to get into that market you had to do a whole container, to do that you’d have to have hundreds or thousands of animals to do that. So chickens are an easy step to be smaller scale because you’re selling the whole carcass, you don’t have to – your minimum scale is much smaller so then I started looking at chickens. Started look at free range and had a look at one of the more corporate, commercial free range chicken farms, and instantly saw that, I can’t see myself doing that, 30 or 40 thousand chickens in a shed. And they’re calling this free range, and for us to compete we’d have to do that and that’s just, I just wouldn’t want to be one of those kind of chicken farmers. So we looked at the organic model and that totally fit, really small scale sheds, mobile chalets we pull through the grass and that’s the dream chicken raising that you’d want to do. So that’s the path we went down.

[00:04:42] 

Ryan: So when you had to then design, what you call these, French chalets which sounds like quite a luxury thing for a bunch of chickens to be living in, did you have to design all of that from scratch or were there some plans out there that you could follow?

Ben: So I went to France and spoke to the manufacturers of these chalets and we sat in the office and we went around their production site where they make them. It turns out that they’re a massive company, employing 600 people and they make also much larger sheds for commercial free range around the world and had a look and went around to some of their farms and one day we went around to five small farmers that had the same chalets that we’ve bought and ate croissants and talked about raising organic chickens. Which was quite cool. 

Ryan: And from that trip around, what ideas apart from the chalets did you bring back around how to actually farm the chickens?

Ben: Interesting, I think we talked a lot about the nutrition and the different steps obviously when you bring them in as a little baby chicken and then brooding which is when you keep them warm until they’ve fledged their feathers and then you can open the potholes and once the potholes are open they stay open until you come to catch them at the end of their cycle. Got to learn a lot about it, and going around a whole lot of different farmers you get a big picture and get to learn it, essentially.

Ryan: So we’re at this point now, you’ve got the French chalets, you’ve go the idea there, they’re built, you get your first lot of chickens, then it becomes the hard bit because you’re taking what you know is going to be a great product, how do you then introduce that to the market place?

Ben: So it all came very quickly because we obviously had this first set of chickens that have got to age and then we had this processing factory, and we had at the start four people that we got off Trademe and no one had ever killed a chicken before so we had it all set up with MPI (Ministry of Primary Industries) and we had them there and we had our gear. Some very small scale gear that we don’t have anymore from America which is a scalder then a plucker, and then a little evisceration table and we humanely killed them correctly which is a very important part but when it came to plucking them we didn’t have the right settings and they weren’t going to pluck properly and it was a major headache for a couple of weeks and I can remember for about three weeks we did 60 in one day and it was a record! Couldn’t see how we could possibly get any more then that, it wasn’t physically possible I just don’t know how anyone can do any more then that, so it was quite cool looking back now doing I think the most we’ve done in a day is about 2,000 on our new processing site and looking back to that with the same guy. The guy that first started with us, is now the plant supervisor and he’s awesome, he’s gone from coming on board as a hand to now managing a whole lot of people it’s pretty cool. 

Ryan: And that’s all happened in quite a short amount of time, when you’ve launched what was it, mid 2014?

Ben: Yes, I think so, around there yeah. Around June, 2014.

Ryan: And we’re now in mid 2016.

Ben: Yeah, a lot has happened since then.

Ryan: How do you manage that growth?

Ben: Well it’s just constantly being there I think, it’s basically being emerged in it 24 hours a day, seven days a week and just constantly just managing. Problem management basically, and there’s always problem. Logistics.

Ryan: Coming into work, looking at, okay what’s the list of fires I have to put out today?

Ben: Basically, staff turning up, but I think that’s having, getting larger can essetialy make it easier because then you’ve got that scale to put processes and systems in place to manage it.

[00:09:21] 

Ryan: Now in terms of the actual number of birds there’s what, about 19, 20,000 birds per French chalet.

Ben: No, 15,00 birds per, so it’s ten times less than that. So it’s very small scale and that’s under the organic protocol, the standard is that instead of the free range standard which is a bit murky anyway, where they don’t have a maximum flock size. You could essentially have infinity birds as long as you meet the densities, the organic philosophy is that for the chicken to be able to experience a true natural, become a home environment, the flock size should be limited and that’s the difference in by having a much smaller flock size, there’s more chance that the chickens not going to be just one of 100,000. It’s actually more of a farm animal.

Ryan: Great, so there’s actually kind of a ceiling there that keeps a lid on doing things at a scale which may then harm the chicken.

Ben: Yeah, a scale where not every chicken can be looked after and checked throughout the day and the daily checks.

Ryan: Now you’re in a lot of places now, supermarkets, like Farro Fresh and New World and so on. And you mentioned how many you’re processing through a day, yet I’m guessing you’re still quite a small player in the market for Kiwis are huge on chicken, their intake is doubled in the last 20 years to 30 kilos a year. And free range is still quite a low percentage of that, how do you grow the awareness that you’ve got this product, it does taste better in the market? 

Ben: I think a lot on social media, and also the beauty about being in the store is you’re essentially advertising your product because people go past it and then they see it, and they might not buy it that time but then buy it the next time, but I think that the word of mouth has probably been the key driver is people buying this chicken, noticing the difference, telling their friends and then their friends go to the supermarket and then they buy it. I think also having the point of difference, obviously our cost of production is so much more than a commercial free range chicken brand but having that point of difference of being organic is, you can justify the cost. Then when people buy it, they justify it with the taste.

Ryan: It’s interesting, because over the last few interviews I’ve done, is that continuing theme that if you go towards quality then you can afford to have that premium price to pay for the additional cost.

Ben: You can’t have one without the other.

Ryan: Exactly.

[00:12:17] 

Ryan: So from here, you’ve created this Bostock’s Organic Kitchen, is there favourite recipes you have for your own chickens, is there particular recipes that you go that’s actually the best way of showing off our organic chicken as the hero of the dish?

Ben: Yeah, well I better be honest, I didn’t actually start the kitchen even though I’m there sometimes, quite regularly. It was a dream from my father to start up and it kind of got catalysed when we started the organic chicken because there was a protein, cause’ he’s already doing a lot of the others vegetables and fruits that they could complement and so then that got started and we obviously supply them our organic chicken but, I think it’s going well. 

Ryan: So that’s your fathers innovation, was that done for international buyers to come through or for locals, or for staff?

Ben: The main driver was for staff. There was no where in this area for the staff to, unless they go down to a local drift in lunch bar for a Mellow Yellow and a pie, to go and eat. So it was for the office staff but not only the office staff but also for the pack house workers to get a healthy meal that’s still filling that’s not filled with sugar and stuff like that. There’s only water served so hopefully, if they’re not going down to the local bakery, they’re not buying all that sugar. 

Ryan: Right so if you invest in your staff a great diet then they’re fortunate with being able to try and enjoy your product, every week then you’ve got a more productive work rate there.

Ben: I think that’s the idea, and it’s subsidised because obviously it comes back to being a lot more expensive to produce, but the company subsidising it can make it more affordable for all the staff. 

Ryan: Now, you’re 30 years of age now, and you’re not even started, really this is a railway success already, what have you learnt so far about running a business? 

Ben: Hard work. (laughs) Definitely when thinking of the idea, I thought, oh it would be pretty easy you just do what you do, but it is bloody hard work. Every day, it’s tough, I wouldn’t say that we are runaway success yet, we’ve got a lot to work through and I think we’re getting there, we’re on the right path but I can still see it’s another five years of grit but I think that it looks like it’s getting easier. I can almost see the light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully in the next five years.

Ryan: So you’re at the end of the beginning, but still plenty to go.

Ben: Plenty to go yeah.

Ryan: So what does the future hold for Bostock’s Organic Chicken?

Ben: Well we are looking at a new site, a new farm to put the chickens. We started with a blank canvas paddock and we’ve planted tree lucernes every five metres in rose and we’re waiting for those to establish and now it’s going to take three years for those trees to be established and now we’re looking at a run down apple orchard. Converting it to organic and then taking out three rows of trees every ten rows, well it’s actually every 15 rows, and sliding our chalets in there so when they walk out of their doors, out of their potholes, it’ll be one metre and then they’ll be literally under apple trees. It’s a lot easier, essentially the trees have already established so we don’t have to wait for that and it’s going to be a world first, it’s going to look awesome.

Ryan: That’s amazing, so you’re actually building what they need to survive around, in a very natural environment where they get shade and they get to be able to scratch around the tree stumps and that stuff.

Ben: And there’s already existing irrigation so in summer we can be growing grass hopefully fast and they can eat it, and there will be windfall of apples for them to eat and I think the sight of them and the blossoms will just be magnificent.

Ryan: If only chickens could write TripAdvisor reviews I think you’d have the happiest chickens in New Zealand.

Ben: Advertise on AirBnB. (Laughs)

Ryan: Well that’s a great insight being into what you’re doing with the organic chicken side of things and I think what you’ve done over the last couple of years is truly amazing, and as you say it’s just the end of the beginning and you’ve still got plenty more to grow the business in New Zealand, just one last question before we finish up, are there plans to export to other countries or are you really just focused on here?

Ben: We do have plans and our new processing facility is set up for export, and we can essentially do that at anytime however we are literally just meeting the demands. We’re such a small producer that it’s only just meeting the demands on local, the local population so once we can fulfill that properly and do a good job there then we can then look at exporting. We’ve got quite a few enquiries out of some countries that are already buying organic chicken from other countries so it’s a good prospect.

Ryan: Fantastic, well done and good luck in the future. 

Ben: Awesome thank you.