Apple growers have been hit by wild weather and labour shortages in the past 12 months, but the marketing team at Rockit Global stepped up during a challenging time for the industry and the company itself.
Weathering the storm
Apples are New Zealand’s third-largest fruit export, with just under $900 million worth going overseas in 2022. Within that sector, Rockit has been a standout performer in recent years, with its small apples – ideal for children and for snacks – proving popular with consumers around the world.
However, like many other New Zealand horticulture businesses, it has had a bumpy ride recently. Not only did Rockit have to contend with labour shortages caused by Covid border closures, but it was hit by severe weather this past season, compounded by Cyclone Gabrielle in February, which devastated a number of apple orchards in the Hawke’s Bay.
Rockit credits it 14-strong marketing team for playing a significant role in the company successfully hurdling this speed bump. One of the team’s achievements has been shaping the entire company’s culture, language and attitude by collaborating with all sides of the business. Through ‘Ready. Set. Rockit.’, the team connected in with local iwi, community, growers, global distributors and the company’s own people during a challenging time.
The marketing team also worked in with Health and Safety in the crisis – and implementing the ‘Rockit Safely Every Day’ brand across the business – ensures people are the first priority, not only through the cyclone effort, but every day. All staff were accounted for in week three of the post-cyclone crisis plan.
The collaboration of market research and the quality and innovation teams has resulted in incredible packout rates – the latest average packout is 78 percent vs 70 percent in 2022. This added 12 million more apples for Rockit to sell, after losing 30 percent of its crop in the cyclone.
Implemented in 2022, growers now receive consistent, structured ongoing communication through the marketing team and commercial team (including weekly updates during harvest, and daily during the cyclone).
The team is working with global market teams across 32 territories, in local language, to launch the ‘Ready. Set. Rockit.’ campaign in line with new season New Zealand fruit arriving in market. The marketing team have ensured Rockit’s story is told well, and at a world-class level. The company also attracted new growers/plantings through strong brand and PR activity across national media post-cyclone.
Rockit has highlighted four key achievements from the marketing team in the past 12 months:
1. Cyclone response
Cyclone Gabrielle caused significant damage to Rockit’s supply chain, resulting in a 30 percent loss of apples and 52 unaccounted workers. However, the marketing team developed a Rockit Cyclone Communications Plan within 24 hours, communicating to all audiences in the business three times daily for three weeks to keep everyone informed. The team secured global media coverage to tell Rockit’s story first hand, to ensure global customer and consumer confidence.
The cyclone halved Rockit’s marketing budgets, but it worked with each market team to maintain its strong brand positioning. It also remodelled the global marketing model with its CEO and Senior Leadership Team, conducting consumer research around fruit grading which helped counter its 30 percent loss in supply to find more apples (approximately 12 million more apples).
2. Continued brand growth
Rockit’s brand continued to grow, with its ‘Ready. Set. Rockit.’ campaign receiving positive feedback from 79 percent of tested consumers. Its brand sentiment rocketed to 88 percent from 54 percent, and its resilience story also received extensive global media coverage, which helped build its brand equity. Rockit is now the world’s most expensive apple by weight at $3.55 USD per five apples.
3. Recruitment success
Rockit ran a successful recruitment campaign to combat the staffing challenges of 2022, themed around ‘Ready. Set. Rockit.’ The company’s permanent staff jumped to 169 and it also saw a massive increase to its seasonal workforce, with 660 employed in 2023.
Despite the challenges, Rockit received multiple export and brand awards in 2022, including the Overall Supreme Award and Best Large Business at the NZ International Business Awards; the Hawke’s Bay Exporter of the Year and Best Established Business at the Hawke’s Bay Export Awards; and numerous Gold Awards at AXIS and BEST, establishing Rockit as one of New Zealand’s leading brands.
These successes have translated into improvements in key business and marketing metrics for Rockit. Global unprompted awareness was up to 17 percent for Q1 2023, from 5 percent for Q2 2022 (an increase of over 200 percent). Its global following on social media grew a massive 60 percent (from 230,000 to 370,000) and to levels not seen in the commodity apple market. Most importantly, Rockit achieved 20 percent year-on-year growth on trading revenue.
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This article was originally published in the September/October 2023 issue of NZ Marketing. Click here to subscribe.