Small Business: Cookie Dough Collective – Canadian eyes opportunity for North American treat down under

Canadian native Katie Portmann, founder of Auckland-based treat company Cookie Dough Collective talks about the ease of setting up a business in Aotearoa, reaching production capacity and plans to set up a physical presence throughout New Zealand.

What does your business do?

Cookie Dough Collective makes premium edible and bakeable cookie dough. It is a fun alternative to your go-to treat, good for sharing straight from the tub or it can also be baked into cookies and enjoyed fresh from the oven. I operate the business out of a home-base in Birkdale in Auckland and we operate mostly online, we do about 95 per cent of our sales online through a Shopify e-commerce store and around that sell product at local markets.

I established the business officially at the end of 2018. At that point I was working full time in a pretty intense job in software and so it was very much an experimental side project that I was chipping away at outside of my 9-5 job. I quit my job at the beginning of 2020, before we went into lockdown, so it has been an interesting transition into the business full time.

What was the motivation for starting it?

I wanted to create a business that stood for some of the values that I believe in. With Cookie Dough Collective that was specifically around injecting fun and joy into life wherever possible. The concept starts way back when I used to bake cookies with my Mom and I would pop pieces of cookie dough into my mouth when she wasn’t looking and sneak as much as I could, and then whatever did make it to the oven we would indulge in and share with friends and family. The moments of joy that the eating of cookie dough, as well as the general experience of baking cookies with my Mom, has really stayed with me since.

I’m from Canada originally and I saw eating cookie dough straight from the tub as a popular concept in North America, and so I saw a gap in the New Zealand market and a great opportunity to build a business where I would be able to inject a bit of fun and joy into people’s lives through cookie dough.

How big is your team?

I work with a group of contractors, so I am the only fulltime staff member at the moment. I’m looking to hire someone permanently to help in the coming months. I have a home-based kitchen but we also use a shared kitchen space as well to make the cookie dough. I’m exploring opportunities for contracting manufacturing at the moment just because it is getting all too much.

We make about 300-400kg of cookie dough each month, about 100kg or so each week. It has been overwhelmingly busy and we’re really happy with the way it is going.

How is your business funded?

When I started the business I invested $500 in the business as it was just an experiment at that time, $500 didn’t get me very far at the time but luckily the business as it has grown has been self-sufficient and I’ve been reinvested every dollar I make back into the business.

How has Covid-19 impacted your business?

Covid definitely changed the course of the business. Seeing the way that Covid has impacted consumer behaviour, purchasing food online and a spike in e-commerce generally, it has been a good thing. There’s a huge momentum now that Covid started around supporting local and globally we’re seeing increased spend on comfort food. With the timing of me going fulltime in the business and the pandemic hitting us, it is impossible to know how Covid impacted us, but our numbers have been trending upwards.

What forecasts do you have for the rest of the year?

We are doing five figures each month consistently, that’s the equivalent of about 300-400kg of cookie dough going out the door each month. We’re looking at expanding over the next three to six months, at least before the end of the year, to some small retailers as well once I’ve got the production a bit more streamlined. Right now we’re at capacity so we can’t increase those numbers anymore or explore other revenue streams until we have our production sorted out.

We’re also looking at launching a small retailer shop next year and then the long-term plan is to dot some Cookie Dough Collective retailers across New Zealand. We’re definitely looking to grow and expand, but just trying to keep up at the moment, which is a good problem to have. I could see us having two to three retail stores in Auckland quite easily, in areas like Takapuna, Remuera and Ponsonby. We’d also like to expand to other parts of New Zealand where we know we’ve got a lot of customers such as in Christchurch and Wellington. We’ll start small and local then build up our customer base.

Is this your first business?

When I was living in Canada, I started a jewellery business with my sister. Being in business was always something I wanted to come back to but it is so easy to get into the rat race of permanent work and a career.

There’s a lot of similarities between starting a business in Canada and New Zealand. The initial start-up and launch of a business in New Zealand is very straightforward – I was surprised at how easy from an administrative perspective it was, launching a business essentially in 24 hours. I’m foreign here so creating connections and finding the small business community was a little bit harder for me here but once you get in there it really snowballs and the more people you meet the more connections you make.

What advice do you give to others thinking about starting their own business?

Don’t let other people’s opinions deter you. Stay focused and keep showing up, and eventually, you will get to where you need to be.

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