Ernst & Young Entrepreneur 2013
Anything But Plain
The story, and leaps of faith, behind the creation of Jennifer Boggiss’ Heilala Vanilla are certainly not mundane. When the focus involves what some say is the world’s most sensual, and exotic, flavour and aroma it would be anything but plain.
The seed of the idea began with the gift of land from a Tongan chief that initially started as an aid project that involved Jennifer’s father John.
Coming from roles as the financial controller for TV3 and a successful consulting accountant, the last thing she thought was part of her life path was leaving the corporate world to create a vanilla brand from scratch.
Having seen her brother launch what became a global vodka business from his garage, Jennifer decided to go tropical in 2008 to bring to harvest what is considered the richest vanilla grade in the Asia-Pacific region.
As its reputation has grown so too have export markets which now include Australia, Singapore, Japan, Denmark, Brazil and USA. Sales growth has been 275% over the last three years. Personal accolades have come from celebrity chef Peter Gordon and also William Sonoma USA—one North America’s most prestigious food retailers.
One of the tricks of the trade that makes the product stand above the rest is the near perfect natural growing environment found on the Tongan island of Vava’u. Using organic growing principles the crop is grown in organic virgin soil, on coconut husk frames.
It is then pollinated and dried under the pacific sun to then be stored at optimum conditions to ensure full flavour develops.
From there in the company’s Tauranga-based processing plant it is turned into a variety of products covering the full spectrum of vanilla offerings including beans, extracts, paste, syrup and sugar. A partnership with Massey University has helped secure world leading food technology capabilities to further enhance the brand and business.