An exhilarating Rockit ride

Starting with the turbulent waters of 2020, Rockit’s General Manager Global Marketing, shares how he and his team have weathered the challenges and taken Rockit apples to the world.

Joining Rockit in 2020 presented itself as the ultimate marketing challenge – to market a commodity-based product and turn it into a global consumer brand. Marketing a commodity really determines how good you are as a marketing team, and having always worked for big brands such as Les Mills International, Orca, Steinlager Pure, PushPay and Fisher & Paykel and as an owner of an agency, it was a great opportunity to showcase both my own, and the team’s marketing prowess. 

I came into the business with a clear vision and challenge I’d set for myself: to grow a team and brand out of Hawke’s Bay that could take our snack-sized Rockit apples to the world. Our initial team of two had a world-beating attitude and embraced the opportunities we had in front of us. We’re now much bigger, with marketers located here and overseas, and we’ll only keep growing.

We have an aspiration of becoming the world’s most-loved apple brand. But when I joined as General Manager global marketing, we had zero consumers on the database, and just a handful of followers on social media, and a very small sales line. The business was operating out of modest facilities on a Havelock North side street. What they did have, however, was determination.

Rockit is now a global brand with the largest apple packhouse, HQ and cold storage in the southern hemisphere. The scale of growth has been incredible to watch as the business chases its ambitious vision. 

For the marketing team, it’s been an exhilarating, fast-paced challenge with some massive curve balls thrown our way this year. But the awards we’ve won across the business in the last three years including Exporter of the Year, Axis, and Best Gold awards have been hugely validating and I couldn’t be prouder of our team, our business and our brand. And after our most recent success, winning Marketing Team of the Year at the 2023 TVNZ-NZ Marketing Awards, I’ve been reflecting on the power of a great team and a great brand.

Things were going great for us in 2022. Since I’d joined Rockit, we had done a huge amount of work to reinvent the brand both internally and externally. We had our own people onboard with our “Ready. Set. Rockit.” brand attitude. Global demand for our apples was up and we had increased our retail footprint and the awareness of our brand. As a diehard sports fan, I couldn’t have been more excited to have Black Caps star Kane Williamson signed on as a brand ambassador. Things were humming and 2023 was set to be our best season ever. 

Then the rain came. Cyclone Gabrielle hammered Hawke’s Bay in February 2023, devastating our orchards, upending the lives of our workers, and creating a massive health and safety crisis across the business. Everyone had to step up and adapt, fast. We had lost 30 percent of our apple crop and, far more worryingly, lost all contact with 52 of our workers. It was really scary stuff, and far removed from the usual day-to-day of marketing life.

But I’m incredibly proud of how our marketing team’s skills came to the fore in a crisis. Our communications team worked non-stop for three weeks straight with two pieces of communication released everyday to different stakeholders across the Rockit value chain. Luckily for us, the work we had done on the Rockit brand had been helping shape the entire company’s culture and attitude. Faced with the huge stress caused by the cyclone, Ready. Set. Rockit. became a call to arms for everyone to pull together. Our team’s role was to be connectors and communicators, keeping conversations going with local iwi, the Hawke’s Bay community, growers, global distributors and our own people during an incredibly challenging time. We were sending out three updates a day for three weeks to keep everyone in the loop.

Aside from the local pressures, we were also conscious of the headlines about the devastation in our primary growing region. So we also worked hard to get some good news stories out globally, talking up Rockit’s successes, and assuring our markets that we were still able to meet demand.

Fast forward to now, and we’re again looking at a record apple crop. All going well on the weather front, 2024 will be a massive year for Rockit. And we wouldn’t have been able to get to this point without the growth that’s happened in all parts of the business. We’ve built the infrastructure to get our apples to markets all over the world, we’ve nurtured our team and culture so that high performance is the norm, and we’ve continually elevated and improved our brand so it means more to more people. 

I like to think we’ve gotten to this point by doing the marketing basics right. There are four areas where the work we’ve put in has really delivered for the brand and the business. First up, we’ve made the brand matter internally. That was key to getting us through the fallout of Cyclone Gabrielle, but it’s also been a big part of improving the way we work across the business, from the orchards to the packhouse to our global markets.

Second, we’ve made sure we know our customers. We’ve invested in audience research and tracking so we really understand what they want and what they respond to. 

Third, we’ve committed to following that great marketing adage about your brand being a promise you keep to your customers. What Rockit promises our customers all over the world is a delicious, convenient, snack-sized apple, packed with goodness. And we make sure they know it. We also try hard to make ourselves part of their lives. We’ve done a huge amount of work to shift Rockit out of the bulk commodity space and to market it like an FMCG product. Our tube packaging is highly visible and easy to pick up on the run, and our in-store brand presence keeps us top of mind. 

Finally, we’ve connected our brand to names that resonate with our customers. For our active, health-focused audience, we’ve got endorsements from sports and fitness influencers who they trust. For our family audience, we’ve teamed up with high-profile properties like Pokémon and Minions to put us on the radar as a fun and healthy snack.

For a New Zealand-based marketer, operating a brand out of Hawke’s Bay, it’s been pretty incredible for me to walk the aisles of a supermarket in China or the Middle East and see Rockit representing New Zealand. I feel incredibly lucky to be part of the story.

Over the next few years, there’s no slowing down for Rockit. The business has incredibly ambitious growth targets and our marketing team has some daunting KPIs to meet, but we’re excited about the challenges and opportunities ahead. 

Many marketers might look at primary industries like horticulture and think they don’t have the excitement and opportunity that comes with an exciting consumer lifestyle brand, for example. But if I’ve learned anything from the last three years of my Rockit journey, it’s that you can do amazing work for any brand if you have a great product to sell, an authentic story, a committed marketing team and the whole business backing you. 

I can’t wait for us to Ready. Set. Rockit. in 2024 and beyond. 

This article was first published in our December/January 2023/2024 issue.

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