Solid shampoo and personal care brand Ethique pushes on with expansion plans

Christchurch-based solid bar personal care manufacturer Ethique has signed a deal to double its distribution of product across Australia.

The firm, which started in Brianne West’s kitchen in 2012 hoping to reduce the amount of plastic going to landfills, is gearing up to expand into Australian supermarket chain Woolworth’s 950 store locations.

From April, Ethique hair cut products will be sold in supermarkets and an extended range in other stores. The business has been stocked in Priceline and a number of independent stores in Australia for just over two years.

“It’s a big jump in stores in Australia and we’re very excited, but we’re very lucky we’ve got good scalable production in New Zealand,” Ethique founder West said.

Ethique’s factory is based in Auckland, its headquarters in Christchurch, and it has teams based in New York and Britain.

The distribution deal with Woolworths will mean Ethique will be sending “tens of thousands” of bars to Australia on a monthly basis.

“While I always saw Ethique being a D2C business online, it is really important for people to be able to touch and feel and have a look at the product physically so we need to be in retail stores, and with our launch into grocery in New Zealand through Countdown we found that very successful, so moving into Woolworths we expect very much the same,” said West, who is a biochemist by trade.

“It’s a greater brand awareness mechanism as well so it’s not just about sales.”

Woolworths approached Ethique about the distribution deal in the second-half of last year.

West said it was interesting to see how retailers were moving to embrace sustainability in line with consumer expectations.

Thousands of retailers around the world stock Ethique products, available in 22 countries worldwide. It sends goods to 50 countries including through its e-commerce channel.

Ethique set out in 2012 with the goal of saving one million plastic bottles by 2020, fast forward 10 years it was able to save 10 million plastic bottles in that time.

It has since set itself the goal of saving half a billion by 2030. So far it has saved just under 11 million plastic bottles, but West said even by Ethique’s most conservative forecasts it was “well on track” to achieve that ambitious goal.

Ethique was named New Zealand’s fourth fastest-growing company by Deloitte in 2019, with just under 1000 per cent growth in the period.

West the company’s growth in recent years had been phenomenal. She could not share financials.

“I never really thought we would be talking to the likes of Woolworths, or Holland & Barrett or Boots in the UK – it’s pretty crazy.”

Demand is strong for its products around the world, although freight continued to be an ongoing nightmare for the team, she said. “But, if that’s the biggest thing we’ve got to moan about then [we’re in a pretty good position].”

West would typically travel to new markets to meet and set up arrangements with new distributors, but she assumed travel like last year would remain off the cards throughout the year. Instead, the company’s teams offshore would be focused on this.

It is focused on growing its distribution throughout the United States and Britain.

In October last year, Ethique signed an investment deal with a small group of international backers, which saw about 350 early investors see a return “many, many times” bigger than the amount they originally put in. The company raised more than $1 million through two equity crowdfunding raises in 2015 and in 2017.

Details about the new international investors, or the size of their investment, remain undisclosed.

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