Hawke’s Bay entrepreneur finalist in prestigious New Zealand award

The founder of a Havelock North-based snack company is thrilled to be named the sole Hawke’s Bay finalist in the EY Entrepreneur of the Year™ Awards 2021.

Matthew Bennett of baked fruit business Nibblish – headquartered in Hawke’s Bay and employing a local team of three – says he couldn’t be more delighted to be honoured alongside household names such as Hnry and Sharesies. “As always, the calibre is extremely high and the judging process rigorous, so to be included amongst the finalists feels amazing,” he says.

Bennett’s business is still relatively young. He established Nibblish in 2018 after discovering a scarcity of delicious, healthy, preservative and chemical free snacks to give his daughter Imogen, who suffers from food intolerances. “That’s when my wife, Melanie, and I began experimenting with drying our own fruit for our children,” says Bennett, who also has a son, Sebastian. “When we shared the results with others, people loved it! It became clear to us that others were fighting the same battles we were when it came to delicious, natural, fruit snacks for families – and that’s when Nibblish was born.”

The product range – which currently includes dried strawberry, cranberry, pineapple, mango, apricots and prunes – was quickly picked up by supermarkets nationwide, and in late 2020 Bennett expanded into Australia, partnering with Woolworths. “It’s certainly nerve-wracking to start a business from scratch,” admits Bennett, who gave up a successful career in executive search and sold the family home to raise capital. “But I reduced risk by establishing market demand before investing much in fixed costs. I also played to my strengths, which are in marketing and business development, and outsourced what I wasn’t so great at. There are always setbacks, and there have been times when I’ve been tempted to chuck it all in, but I’ve always been able to move forward. My wife says I have an unerring ability to see the big picture and to problem-solve!”

Bennett says his timing was also good – he launched Nibblish during a period where the dried fruit sector was “stagnating”.

“There was so little choice on the shelves, and all the other dried fruit to be found was being flushed with sulphur dioxide or soaked in sugar to remove the moisture and retain shelf-life.”

Obsessed with quality, Bennett spent months scouring the world to find the freshest fruit on the planet. “It was important to us to find places where fruit was grown natively, and sustainably. So we looked to Africa, primarily, and began working with a fantastic team there who could grow and harvest our fruit the way we wanted it, then bake it at source using my own tested formula, and without any sulphites or other chemicals.”

He’s also community minded and focused on sustainability.  In Ghana, where the mango and pineapple are grown, Bennett has established a creche so that mothers with preschool children can bring them to work. “We knew that many of our best staff in Ghana were struggling to find care for their children while they earned an income. An on-site creche was the clear solution – the wonderful women we work with love having their children nearby, and we’ve also put on free buses to transport them to and from the plant. We all win when our staff are well looked after.”

The plant in Ghana is solar-powered, with a methane-capture system that creates renewable energy from the leftover scraps of fruit (skins and cores) to power the factory when the sun isn’t shining. And, there are wastewater solutions too. “All our plants have a recycling system that sanitises and then recirculates our water. One of our key values is to tread lightly on the earth and to operate in a way that is as environmentally neutral as possible.”

The EY Entrepreneur of the Year™ Awards annual workshop and dinner was to take place on September 6th in Auckland, with judging to follow the next day. Bennett says he’s unsure how Covid-19 restrictions will impact the timing of the awards this year, but that he’s excited to prove to the selection team – including My Food Bag founder Cecilia Robinson and Icebreaker’s Jeremy Moon – how he built up a business from zero revenue and market share in 2018 to driving 500% revenue growth by the end of 2019 and a further 100% growth in 2020.

“Now, we’re intensively building our brand in Australia, both online and instore, and we’re beginning to export to Singapore. Nibblish also has the USA in our sights for 2022, so spending time with the EY team, the 17 other businesses who’ve been named finalists, and the network growth and elevated brand awareness that comes with something like this is hugely helpful. I’m really excited.”


Tuesday 31 August, 2021