Chocolate brand Whittakers has cracked the code, gaining title of New Zealand’s most trusted brand on numerous occasions. Although their product is primarily found in supermarkets, petrol stations and convenience stores, they have built a brand that is premium, hype-worthy and innovative.
Recently, our attention was caught by the Tip Top X Whittakers #Happimess pop-up in Newmarket. Pairing Whittakers chocolate with Tip Top ice cream was a natural choice - both being Kiwi companies with similar values. Whittakers controls it’s entire manufacturing process (dubbed ‘bean to bar’), and Tip Top is one of the few ice cream makers that uses fresh cream and milk.
This is not the first pop-up Whittakers has implemented - in 2016 an old-school milk bar style shop opened to celebrate the re-launch of the Whittakers K Bar. This was the first time that Whittakers had opened a physical storefront.
Pop-up concept stores drive hype amongst consumers and increase demand, due to their limited nature and high engagement levels on social media channels. But Whittakers has done more than just pop-up stores to build its brand. It has an impressive history of collaborations with other Kiwi brands to reach more customers and strengthen its position as a household name. From the All Blacks to L&P, 100s & 1000s, Garage Project and Jelly Tip, customers look fondly upon Whittakers’ innovations, leaving them to want more. There is also an aspect of customer nostalgia, for example the adults who would not purchase 100s and 1000s biscuits for themselves, but now have the opportunity to indulge in the chocolate by a premium brand which adults love and enjoy. This is exemplified by the use of Nigella Lawson in recent campaigns - Whittakers is decadent, premium and oozes sophistication.
Although collaborations among chocolate brands are nothing new, for example the Cadbury and Oreo collaboration, the connection for consumers is not local and does not install a sense of pride in customers, in part derived from Kiwi ingenuity. While Cadbury has been labeled as controversial, especially in 2009 when it defended its use of palm oil in chocolate, Whittakers has always always marketed itself as a good and honest Kiwi company. Some of Whittaker’s chocolate blocks are fair trade, and it cares for the community, supporting a number of charities as well as the youth of Porirua (where the Whittaker’s factory is based).
Now that Whittakers has cemented itself as a premium New Zealand brand, naturally it’s next step is to increase its global presence with the recent unveiling of a stand-alone store in Auckland International Airport. Whittakers already exports to Australia, some Pacific Islands, Canada, parts of Asia, the Middle East and Kenya. But with a stand-alone store in Auckland Airport, it is signifying to international visitors that it’s a New Zealand brand which they should take note of. The store in the airport has no physical walls, operating as more of a pop-up stand with its signature gold colour everywhere - an airside extravaganza. The iconic duty free chocolate brand Toblerone implemented a similar strategy in Zurich Airport, going so far as to use a mobile shop to test the viability of different airside locations.
Importantly, a stand-alone shop gives Whittakers better control over customer satisfaction and experience, as well as the ability to capture customer insights first hand. They don’t already have this through operation of an online store - this is not how consumers typically purchase chocolate. Instead, a store in an international airport where travellers are moving through at high rates, wanting to purchase a treat for themselves or a present for their loved ones, is a win for the brand.
It’ll be interesting to see where Whittakers goes next, and how it will keep on reimaging its brand to the delight of Kiwi chocolate lovers. Will the next collaboration be a chocolate gin, or choc-dipped kiwifruit? The new normal for Whittakers is always unexpected, yet customers flock towards their products. The combination of strong values, innovative collaborations and pop-ups to drive hype and demand are key drivers behind the company’s growth. Their success is certainly one to study, especially in a market where other chocolate producers are susceptible to controversy.