How Australian frozen yoghurt business Twisted Healthy Treats cracked the US market

Cassandra-Spies

Cassandra Spies is the founder and CEO of Twisted Health Treats. Source: Women's Agenda.

There are times in business, and in life, when an opportunity presents itself at just the right moment.

Sometimes, it’s easy to see these opportunities for what they are, but there are also times when you never know just where they will lead you.

For me and my business, Twisted Healthy Treats, that right opportunity at the right time moment came about year ago.

Twisted Healthy Treats manufactures and sells a line of low- and zero-sugar yoghurts, treats and desserts.

I started the business back in 2009, after I was with my daughter in the frozen treats aisle of our local supermarket and couldn’t find a treat that was both healthy and delicious. I realised then there was a gap in the market and decided to fill it.

Along the way, we had a few miss-starts and problems, but what we knew was that we had a great product that people loved.

Eventually, that consistent quality and focus on healthy alternatives helped us move into the Australian school canteen market.

That was our watershed moment because, as a result, our products are now sold in more than 5,000 canteens across Australia, which is about 80% of schools.

Additionally, our products are sold in another 1,100 stores, such as the large grocer Harris Farm and other independent retailers, as well as two of our products that are sold in Coles supermarkets, which is another 1,200 stores across the country.

But watershed moments sometimes lead to game-changing moments, and that is what happened when we began to sell our frozen yoghurt products at Costco, one of the world’s largest retailers.

In fact, it’s the second-largest retailer in the world behind Walmart in the United States.

At the same time as we were expanding into school canteens and other retailers, we began to sell an 18-pack frozen yogurt product to Costco Australia.

And this is where it really gets interesting, because, two-and-a-half years ago, at the annual freezer buyer’s conference in the US, my Australian Costco buyer told her counterpart in the United States about our product. This happened without my knowledge.

She called me when she got back from the conference and she said: ‘I hope you don’t mind, but we really love the product, and it has gone so well here in Australia, and it is such good quality, that we thought the US might be interested in selling it over there.’

What a fantastic surprise.

In terms of markets, the United States is gigantic.

To have an opportunity to dip a toe into that market is something most Australian businesses never get, and I wanted to do everything I could to make it happen.

Cassandra Spies and her two daughters.

From that point until May this year, which was also the time the pandemic hit the world and sent us into lockdown, I worked with two of my team members to get accredited for export, working out how to become qualified for the US food trade agreement, getting the buyers in the US across the line, and sorting out all the details that come with trying to break into the US market.

For us, 2020 has all been about expanding into the US.

Earlier this year, we sent the first containers of product, and to everybody’s delight, that 520,000 units of mini-cups sold out in just three weeks across different regions. We were all extremely excited about that.

Since then, we have sent another 200,000 units of product and they also sold out very quickly, allowing the buyers to see that there is a buoyant market for what we produce.

At the same time, we have also started selling our frozen yoghurt products in New Zealand schools, which has given us a platform to investigate expansion in the Asia-Pacific markets, which could also be enormously rewarding.

Obviously, though, the US is still our major focus.

Right now, we are preparing to send about 15 containers to the US, which means manufacturing, packaging and sending about 800,000 cups to be on the shelves in the US before the holiday season and Christmas.

That will be an incredible achievement. It’s been such a game-changer. Just to think about gaining entry to the US market is big.

I have been to conferences in the US and met with other retailers and manufacturers and the numbers they talk about are unheard of here in Australia. The scale is just through the roof.

They talk about 500,000 units as if it were nothing.

The other thing, and this is something I am extremely proud of, is that the healthy frozen yoghurt market really began in the United States.

So, to be selling frozen yoghurt products to the Americans is like shipping coal to Newcastle or iron ore to Western Australia.

One of the most pleasing aspects of all this is that we have managed to keep all our team at Twisted Healthy Treats on the books during the COVID-19 crisis.

Just as schools started to close across Australia, we developed our new focus on the US.

In fact, we even had to expand the team at our manufacturing facility in Sydney to meet the expanded production.

Having the ability to meet that expanded production is also a key element of our expansion.

If we had not made the decision to invest $750,000 in our new purpose-built manufacturing site and plant, then we simply wouldn’t have had the capacity to make that extra product.

So that is an investment that has paid off in a big way for us.

And one of the other pleasing things is that not only is this good for our business, but it flows down the line to rest of our supply chain.

Every ingredient that we can buy in Australia, we buy in Australia. We bring our suppliers along on the journey with us.

Pretty much every ice cream factory in the world is sold out now and I am so grateful that we are in an industry that people can turn to during a crisis such as this.

People all over the world are restricted in their movement, they can’t go out, they can’t go to the movies, they can’t go to restaurants and they are turning to our products to allow them to have an enjoyable experience inside their own homes.

We had emails from people in the United States saying that our products, which they had discovered at Costco, were the only things that were getting them through, which is a lovely thing to hear.

We’ve had some very real, authentic, wonderful feedback and it was so uplifting for the entire team to experience that.

This article was first published by Women’s Agenda.

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